Darin's Point of No Return

Magawa, a hero around Cambodia, has found 39 land mines and 28 separate pieces of unexploded ordnance over the course of the past five years. This courage and competency earned him an award the equivalent of the “George Cross, an award given to British civilians or soldiers who perform ‘acts of the greatest heroism or for most conspicuous courage in circumstance of extreme danger,’” according to the Associated Press.

Magawa is a giant African pouched rat. Maybe I should have led with that.

The award was bestowed upon him on Sept. 25 by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, and Magawa is credited with clearing more than 141,000 square miles of land — that is literally making at least one corner of the world a better place.

The Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) estimates that there may be as many as 4 million to 6 million pieces of unexploded ordnance in Cambodia, according to a study by SEAsite Northern Illinois University. Accidentally-triggered mines have caused more than 60,000 casualties in Cambodia, according to the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. Cambodia has the highest number of mine-related amputations per capita in the world. It is a very real problem.

Under the official title of “HeroRAT,” Magawa works with APOPO — a Belgian organization that specifically trains rats to find mines. (Their motto: “We Train Rats to Save Lives.”) He apparently uses his acute sense of smell to sniff out the chemicals used to make these devices, and can signal the exact location to a handler who is trained to dispose of mines safely.

“Honey, I want you to meet my new partner.”

“That’s a rat.”

“No. It’s a HeroRAT, and he can hear you.”

His ability to move past a piece of scrap metal and focus only on those specific chemicals allows him to be much more efficient than a human being alone could do the job, even with mechanical assistance.

“He can search the area of a tennis court in 30 minutes, something that would take a human with a metal detector up to four days,” said the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. “On a daily basis, HeroRAT Magawa’s work is life-saving and life-changing and has a direct impact on the men, women and children in the communities in which he works. For every landmine or unexploded remnant he finds, he eradicates the risk of death or serious injury in locations already suffering significant hardship.”

I think we can all agree that Magawa has performed his duties to an incredibly high level, and APOPO claims that he is by far their most successful mine-sniffing rat. But — and how do I say this tastefully — why in the world would any clear-thinking individual want to spend any significant time working with, training and relying on a rat?

Editor’s note: I hate rats.

Well, apparently these African giant pouched rats are bred for this very specific purpose. They are larger than an average rat, but still light enough where they won’t trigger a mine. And those sniffers… well, those sniffers save lives, one mine at a time.

Does Magawa know the kind of real-life impact he is having on people? Probably not. I mean… rat. But he probably gets some kind of positive reinforcement after every good thing he does, and that’s something we can all use from time to time in our lives, right?

Well done, Magawa. Every mine you find can mean a life that doesn’t end prematurely. Every cleared square mile of land can mean crops to feed a generation. I’d shake your hand and all, but, you know… rat.

Executive Editor

Darin is a native of Washington, D.C, and studied journalism at Temple University. He is a combat-veteran Marine, and has worked as a reporter and editor throughout the country. He is married and has one daughter, who doubles as his harshest critic.