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Rat wins top bravery award for landmine work

AP, October 13, 2020 6:45PM Kids News

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Magawa, an African giant pouched rat wearing his gold medal received from PDSA for his work in detecting landmines in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Picture: AFP/PDSA media_cameraMagawa, an African giant pouched rat wearing his gold medal received from PDSA for his work in detecting landmines in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Picture: AFP/PDSA


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A rat has for the first time won a British charity’s top civilian* award for animal bravery, receiving the honour for searching out unexploded landmines in Cambodia.

Magawa, a giant African pouched rat, was awarded the PDSA’s Gold Medal for his “lifesaving bravery and devotion” after discovering 39 landmines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance (explosives) in the past seven years, according to the charity.

First known as the People’s Dispensary* for Sick Animals, PDSA started as a free veterinary* clinic in 1917 and has honoured heroic* animals since 1943.

Magawa was trained by a Belgian organisation that has taught rats to find landmines for more than 20 years. The group, APOPO, works with programs in Cambodia, Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique to clear millions of mines left behind from wars and conflicts.

Magawa is the group’s most successful rat, having cleared more than 141,000 sqm of land, the equivalent of about 20 soccer fields.

media_cameraMagawa at work in Cambodia. Picture: AFP/PDSA

APOPO chief executive Christophe Cox described Magawa’s medal as a huge honour “for our animal trainers.”

“But also it is big for the people in Cambodia, and all the people around the world who are suffering from landmines,” Mr Cox said. “The PDSA Gold Medal award brings the problem of landmines to global attention.”

media_cameraMagawa, an African giant pouched rat who received a prestigious gold medal from PDSA for his work in detecting landmines in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Picture: AFP/PDSA

More than 60 million people in 59 countries continue to be threatened by landmines and unexploded ordnance, according to APOPO. In 2018, landmines and other remnants* of war killed or injured 6897 people, the group said.

While many rodents can be trained to detect scents and will work at repetitive tasks for food rewards, APOPO decided that giant African pouched rats were best suited to landmine clearance because of their African origins and lifespan of up to eight years.

Their size allows the rats to walk across mine fields without triggering the explosives — and do it much more quickly than people.

The PDSA’s Gold Medal has been awarded since 2002 to recognise bravery and acts of exceptional* devotion* by animals in civilian service. It is considered the animal equivalent of the George Cross, a decoration for heroism.

Before Magawa, all the recipients were dogs.

PDSA also awards the Dickin Medal for military service. The medal has been awarded to 34 dogs, 32 pigeons, four horses and one cat since it was created in 1943.

media_cameraMagawa at work detecting landmines in Cambodia. Picture: AFP/PDSA

Magawa was born on November 5, 2014 in Morogoro, Tanzania.

He is 70cm long and weighs 1.23kg.

His favourite foods are bananas and peanuts.

His human trainers say he is a determined worker and always friendly.

He is quick and decisive and likes to take naps at break time.

Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex and Magawa share the same jeweller, Cleave & Company. The jewellers made Magawa’s miniature PDSA Gold Medal as well as creating Meghan’s engagement ring.


  • civilian: not of the military
  • dispensary: a medical clinic paid for by donations
  • veterinary: animal health; to do with vets and their work
  • heroic: a hero
  • remnants: what’s left behind
  • exceptional: not ordinary
  • devotion: commitment; loyalty


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  1. What job does Magawa do?
  2. Why is it safer for a rat to do this than a person?
  3. How many people died or were injured from landmines and unexploded ordnance in 2018?
  4. List three facts you know about Magawa.
  5. Why is a jeweller mentioned?


1. Animal Awards
Magawa is the first rat to be awarded the top civilian award for animal bravery. Other animals that have won a bravery award or a medal for military service are dogs, pigeons, horses and a cat. Complete the table below as to what tasks or reasons these animals may have had for earning these honours.

Complete a table like this one for activity 1. media_cameraComplete a table like this one for activity 1.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and creative thinking

2. Extension
Apart from their miniature medals, how else do you think these animals should be awarded for their bravery and service? Discuss your ideas with the person sitting closest to you.

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and creative thinking, Personal and social

Proper Noun Police
A proper noun is a noun that names a particular person, place or thing. It always has a capital letter.

How many proper nouns can you find within this article? Find them all and sort them into the category of name, place, time (date/month).

Can you find any proper nouns included in your writing?

What are they?

Can you sort them into their categories?

HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you think it is worthwhile giving a rat an award?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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