Landmine detection rat wins top UK animal bravery award

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

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.


Magicians mark 100 years of sawing people in half

Magicians mark 100 years of sawing people in half
Updated 15 January 2021

Magicians mark 100 years of sawing people in half

Magicians mark 100 years of sawing people in half
  • They came, they sawed, they conquered
  • London-based Magic Circle organization will host the celebrations

LONDON: He came, he sawed, he conquered. One hundred years ago on Sunday, illusionist P.T. Selbit put a woman in a box on the stage of London’s Finsbury Park Empire and sawed right through the wood, creating a magical classic.
Now, 100 years on, magicians from around the world will be getting together online this weekend to celebrate the centenary of that landmark performance.
“This took off and became the most influential and the most famous illusion, in my opinion, that there’s ever been,” said magician and historian Mike Caveney who is writing a book on the illusion.
“The magician wasn’t doing this trick to an inanimate object. He was doing it to a human being, which raised it up to a whole new level.”
In the original version, the saw went through, the box was opened and the person emerged unharmed.
Down the years magicians developed refinements, with the two halves pulled apart. Celebrity magician David Copperfield came up with his own version “The Death Saw” where he was the one tied down to a platform as a giant rotary blade sliced him in two.
Sometimes he actually got injured, Copperfield said in an interview filmed for Sunday’s online event.
“I got cut a few times by the blade because the blade was a little bit off, you know, stages are different every theater you have,” Copperfield said.
The London-based Magic Circle organization will host the celebrations with a live streamed-event on Facebook from 1800 GMT on Sunday.
Guests will include Debbie McGee, the wife of the late British TV magician Paul Daniels, who will describe the many times she survived the procedure.