Magawa the Magnificent


Photo Courtesy of APOPO

Magawa and his rat-sized PDSA Gold Medal.

Matthew Boughter, Journalist

Usually when there’s a bomb that needs to be uncovered or removed, bomb-sniffing dogs and the bomb squad are called in to dispose of it. But in Cambodia, they call in Magawa, the bomb-sniffing rat! This year Magawa was awarded a PDSA Gold Medal for his bravery and lifesaving work he has done over the past 5 years. After the 77 year history of the award and the 30 animals that have received it, Magawa is the first rat to ever receive a PDSA Gold Medal.

Magawa resting on his handler’s arm (Photo Courtesy of ABC News)

Magawa, an African giant pouched rat, was born in Tanzania and grew up in a research center. There he was trained to find explosives using his acute sense of smell, and then began his job as a bomb sniffer in Cambodia. He was trained to smell a specific chemical in the explosives. When he senses a mine, he alerts his coworkers by scratching the surface of the ground exactly where the bomb is so that it can be disposed of safely.

According to BBC, “Magawa has sniffed out 39 landmines and 28 unexploded munitions in his career.”

There is an estimated 80 million undiscovered landmines around the globe, which is extremely dangerous for civilians. 60 million people from Angola to Cambodia have to worry about landmines that lay hidden and APOPO is working their hardest to eliminate this problem. There have been over 64,000 casualties alone in Cambodia, which is where Magawa works his magic.

According to Apopo, “Over the past 4 years he has helped clear over 141,000 square metres of land, allowing local communities to live, work and play without fear of losing life or limb.”

Even though he’s pretty big for a rat, Magawa still doesn’t weigh enough for the mines to explode.  Despite his small size, Magawa can find landmines with precision extremely quickly. What Magawa can search in 30 minutes would take a human with a metal detector 4 days to uncover.

Magawa helps uncover landmines like these every day. (Photo Courtesy of San Antonio Express News)

Eduardo Nuno, senior, said, “I would trust rats to uncover landmines since they are smaller and it would seem like a safer way of detecting landmines. It’s cool that Magawa is the first rat to be trained and sent to many countries to sniff out landmines,”

Who would have thought that a two and a half pound rat could save so many lives and do so much good in the world in just five years?