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[Slashdot] - Rat That Sniffs Out Land Mines Receives Award For Bravery

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An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times: The medal awarded on Friday lauded the "lifesaving bravery and devotion to duty" for work detecting land mines in Cambodia. Its recipient: a rat named Magawa. Magawais the first rat to receive the award -- a gold medal bestowed by the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals, a British charity, that is often called the "animal's George Cross" after an honor usually given to civilians that recognizes acts of bravery and heroism. Not since the fictional Remy of the 2007 Disney-Pixar film "Ratatouille" has a rat done so much to challenge the public's view of the animals as creatures more commonly seen scuttling through sewers and the subway: Magawa has discovered 39 land mines and 28 pieces of unexploded ordnance, and helped clear more than 1.5 million square feet of land over the past four years. More than five million land mines are thought to have been laid in Cambodia during the ousting of the Khmer Rouge and internal conflicts in the 1980s and 1990s. Parts of the country are also littered with unexploded ordnance dropped in United States airstrikes during the Vietnam War, a 2019 report from the Congressional Research Service found. Since 1979, more than 64,000 people have been injured by land mines and other explosives in Cambodia, and more than 25,000 amputees have been recorded there, according to the HALO Trust, the world's largest humanitarian land mine clearance charity. Magawa, the most successful rat to have taken part in the program, was trained to detect TNT, the chemical compound within explosives. The ability to sniff out TNT makes him much faster than any person in searching for land mines, as he can ignore scrap metal that would usually be picked up by a metal detector. He can search an area the size of a tennis court in 30 minutes, whereas a person with a metal detector would usually take four days to search an area of that size. When he finds a mine, he signals to his handler by scratching at the earth above it. Unlike humans, Magawa is too light to detonate a mine, so there is minimal risk of injury.

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