From NPR, National Public Radio [npr.org]:
A heroic rat named Magawa has been working for five years in Cambodia, sniffing out dozens of land mines. He is believed to have saved lives.
Now, the animal is about to embark on a well-deserved retirement.
"Although still in good health, he has reached a retirement age and is clearly starting to slow down," the nonprofit APOPO said Thursday. [twitter.com] "It is time."
Magawa is a Tanzanian-born African giant pouched rat who was trained by APOPO to sniff out explosives. With careful training, he and his rat colleagues learn to identify land mines and alert their human handlers, so the mines can be safely removed.
Even among his skilled cohorts working in Cambodia, Magawa is a standout sniffer: In four years he has helped to clear more than 2.4 million square feet of land. In the process, he has found 71 land mines and 38 items of unexploded ordnance.
Good work, if you can get it.
Last year, Magawa received one of Britain's highest animal honors.
In a virtual ceremony, the U.K. charity PDSA gave Magawa its gold medal for his lifesaving work.
"This is the very first time in our 77-year history of honoring animals that we will have presented a medal to a rat," PDSA Chair John Smith said during the proceedings.
The group started giving out medals during World War II to recognize animals for gallantry in the face of conflict. Previous honorees have included dogs, pigeons, horses and a cat.
Magawa's medal is perfectly rat-sized and fits onto his work harness.
And just how good are these mine-finding rats?
"We really trust our rats, because very often after clearing a minefield, our teams will play a game of soccer on the cleared field to assure the quality of our work," he said.
Cox said the rats have freed more than 1 million people from the terror of living with land mines.
Unmarked and abandoned land mines, especially anti-person mines, are a violation of the laws of war, and are not that nice during peace some sixty years later.