In Great Britain in 1917, an organization called the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) was formed. It was originally a free veterinary clinic. Later, in 1943, the PDSA began to grant awards to heroic animals. Now it has given its highest award to a creature for its role in saving human lives. Magawa, a giant African pouched rat, was awarded the PDSA’s Gold Medal for his “lifesaving bravery and devotion.” His heroic act? Discovering 39 landmines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance (military materials designed to detonate) over the past seven years.
Magawa does his work in Cambodia. He was trained by a Belgian organization that has taught rats to find landmines for more than 20 years. The group, called APOPO, works with programs in Cambodia, Angola, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. Together, people and animals have cleared millions of life-threatening mines left behind from wars and other conflicts. Magawa is the group’s most successful mine-finding rat. He’s cleared the equivalent of 20 soccer fields of land, returning it to safety for people to pass by on.
There’s still much left to be done. More than 60 million people in 59 countries continue to be threatened by landmines and unexploded ordnance, says the APOPO. In 2018, landmines and other remnants of war killed or injured 6,897 people, the group says.
Many rodents can be trained to detect scents and will work at repetitive tasks for food rewards. But the APOPO decided that giant African pouched rats were best suited to landmine clearance. That’s in part because they live a long time for rodents—up to eight years. Their size is perfect too. They are lightweight enough to walk across mine fields without triggering the explosives—a job far too dangerous for people. Before Magawa, all the medal recipients had been dogs.
Sadly, the task for Magawa and others that will come after him is large. It will continue until Jesus returns and puts an end to the wars He said we would have with us. (See Matthew 24:6.) But the day will come when mankind will “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” (Isaiah 2:4) Perhaps in that day, even landmines will instead form cups to hold human kindness.
(Magawa, the mine-sniffing rat, displays his PDSA Gold Medal for lifesaving bravery and devotion. He searches out unexploded landmines in Cambodia. PDSA via AP)