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Mine-Detecting Rat In Cambodia Wins Award For Bravery

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

All right. We're now going to introduce you to a rat, a rat named Magawa.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And Magawa is no regular rodent. Magawa is an award-winning hero rat. He lives in Cambodia and sniffs out dangerous land mines left behind after decades of conflict.

MICHAEL HEIMAN: He has a very strong character. He's very quick. And he's a hard worker. But he's also the first one to take a nap when there is a short break.

GREENE: That's Michael Heiman, who works with Magawa in Cambodia.

MARTIN: Magawa was awarded a gold medal for his bravery by the U.K. veterinary charity PDSA. Its chair, John Smith, introduced Magawa at a virtual award ceremony.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN SMITH: This is the very first time in our 77-year history of honoring animals that we will have presented a medal to a rat.

GREENE: Magawa's tiny, rodent-sized medal hangs on a blue harness under his long snuffling nose. That nose is important, Heiman says.

HEIMAN: Magawa has cleared so far more than 140,000 square meters. And he found more than 60 items, land mines and unexploded ordnances.

GREENE: The giant pouched rat and his human colleagues head out every morning before sunrise to a new site where there might be land mines. He is great at his job, partially because he's too small to actually set off any of the mines.

HEIMAN: He's searching attached to a string back and forward, back and forward until his area is completely cleared. If there is a mine, Magawa will stop and start scratching.

MARTIN: A nonprofit called APOPO trained Magawa and his rodent associates in Tanzania, which is home to a lot of giant pouched rats. They're working with Cambodian officials to try and clear the country of land mines by the year 2025.

HEIMAN: Cambodia has a very high number of victims generally for a country that is suffering from a land mine problem. Recently, these numbers are going down, but we still have a lot of work to do in order to stop this from happening.

GREENE: Magawa took a day off from sniffing to celebrate his award and a career of saving lives.

HEIMAN: Today, he's going to enjoy a huge piece of watermelon. There is already half a watermelon waiting in his home.

GREENE: A gold medal and some celebratory watermelon - you deserve it, Magawa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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