Landmine detection rat wins top UK animal bravery award

Magawa, an African giant pouched rat, has received a prestigious gold medal from PDSA for his work in detecting land mines in Siem Reap, Cambodia. (AFP)
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Updated 25 September 2020

Landmine detection rat wins top UK animal bravery award

  • Magawa, who was trained by the Belgian charity APOPO, has sniffed out 39 land mines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance
  • He can scurry across an area the size of a tennis court in just 30 minutes, something that would take four days using a conventional metal detector

LONDON: Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. A five-year-old giant African pouched rat called Magawa, however, has to be one of the world’s most unlikely life-savers.
The rodent has won the animal equivalent of Britain’s highest civilian honor for bravery because of his uncanny knack of sniffing out land mines and unexploded ordnance.
British veterinary charity the PDSA on Friday awarded Magawa its Gold Medal “for his life-saving bravery and devotion to duty,” which had transformed the lives of people in Cambodia.
Magawa, who was trained by the Belgian charity APOPO, has sniffed out 39 land mines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance, making him the organization’s most successful “HeroRAT.”
“The work of HeroRAT Magawa and APOPO is truly unique and outstanding,” said PDSA director-general Jan McLoughlin.
“HeroRAT Magawa’s work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women and children who are impacted by these land mines.”
Millions of land mines were laid in Cambodia between 1975 and 1998, causing tens of thousands of casualties.
Magawa, based in the northern city of Siem Reap, is the first rat to receive a PDSA medal in the 77 years of the awards, joining an illustrious band of brave canines and felines — and even a pigeon.
The PDSA Gold Medal is the animal equivalent of Britain’s George Cross. The charity also awards the Dickin Medal, for military animals.
APOPO trained Magawa in his native Tanzania to detect the chemical compound within explosives by rewarding him with tasty treats — his favorite being bananas and peanuts.
The rats alert de-miners by scratching the earth.
He can scurry across an area the size of a tennis court in just 30 minutes, something that would take four days using a conventional metal detector.
He is big enough to be attached to a leash as he goes about his business but light enough not to set off mines.
“The PDSA Gold Medal award brings the problem of land mines to global attention,” said Christophe Cox of APOPO.
Cox said its team of “HeroRATs” speeded up land mine detection because of their keen sense of smell and recall.
“Unlike metal detectors, the rats ignore scrap metal and only sniff out explosives making them fast and efficient land mine detectors,” Cox said.
“This not only saves lives but returns much-needed safe land back to the communities as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.”
APOPO currently has 45 rats finding land mines and 31 detecting tuberculosis in Africa and Asia, according to its website.


Mysterious monolith in US desert reportedly disappears

Updated 29 November 2020

Mysterious monolith in US desert reportedly disappears

  • The shiny, triangular pillar was spotted on November 18 by baffled local officials
  • Some observers pointed out the object’s resemblance to the avant-garde work of John McCracken

LOS ANGELES: A mysterious metal monolith found in the remote desert of the western United States, sparking a national guessing game over how it got there, has apparently disappeared, officials said.
The Bureau of Land Management in Utah said Saturday it had received “credible reports” that the object had been removed “by an unknown party” on Friday evening.
The bureau “did not remove the structure which is considered private property,” it said in a statement.
“We do not investigate crimes involving private property which are handled by the local sheriff’s office.”
The shiny, triangular pillar which protruded some 12 feet from the red rocks of southern Utah, was spotted on November 18 by baffled local officials counting bighorn sheep from the air.
After landing their helicopter to investigate, Utah Department of Public Safety crew members found “a metal monolith installed in the ground” but “no obvious indication of who might have put the monolith there.”
News of the discovery quickly went viral, with many noting the object’s similarity with strange alien monoliths that trigger huge leaps in human progress in Stanley Kubrick’s classic sci-fi film “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Others remarked on its discovery during a turbulent year that has seen the world gripped by the Covid-19 pandemic, and optimistically speculated it could have a different function entirely.
“This is the ‘reset’ button for 2020. Can someone please press it quickly?” joked one Instagram user.
“Somebody took the time to use some type of concrete-cutting tool or something to really dig down, almost in the exact shape of the object, and embed it really well,” Nick Street, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety told the New York Times.
“It’s odd,” he added. “There are roads close by, but to haul the materials to cut into the rock, and haul the metal, which is taller than 12 feet in sections — to do all that in that remote spot is definitely interesting.”
Some observers pointed out the object’s resemblance to the avant-garde work of John McCracken, a US artist who lived for a time in nearby New Mexico, and died in 2011.
His son, Patrick McCracken, told the Times recently that his father had told him in 2002 that he would “like to leave his artwork in remote places to be discovered later.”
Although officials had refused to disclose the object’s location out of fear that hordes of curious sightseers would flock to the remote wilderness, some explorers had been able to track it down.
Instagram user David Surber said he trekked to the monolith using coordinates posted on Reddit.
“Apparently the monolith is gone,” he posted later.
“Nature returned back to her natural state I suppose. Something positive for people to rally behind in 2020.”