In high school, I was assigned to read a book entitled “Rats, Lice and History.” It was a bit of an eye-opener for me. That book made me realize that human beings weren’t the King of the Hill; something I took for granted. Smaller organisms like rats and lice could literally destroy those that thought they governed the world.
Like many people, I had a healthy aversion for rats… lice too. I considered rats as vermin that deserved nothing more than being wiped out. Little did I know or consider why rats were in the ecological chain and if they had any kind of purpose. In almost any language, the word RAT has negative connotations, and to call anyone a RAT is to insult.
But every now and then in life, there is that rarest exception to the rule. One such exception to be extolled is none other than Magawa, an African RAT revered as a hero for sniffing out over 100 land mines and other explosive ordinances in Cambodia. Magawa had an incredible nose for smelling gun powder and literally marked the land mines for controlled, safe destruction by his human friends by scratching the dirt above a bomb that had a man or a child stepped on would no longer inherit the earth. It seems Magawa was so light in weight that the triggering mechanism of the land mines didn’t react. Magawa is credited with clearing more than 141,000 square meters – the equivalent of 20 football fields which meant that children could finally run with glee without concern they’d be blown up.
In 2020, Magawa was awarded the PDSA Gold Medal – sometimes described as the George Cross for animals – for his “life-saving devotion to duty.” He was the first rat to be given the medal in the charity’s 77-year history. Magawa’s keen sense of smell made life for Cambodians and their children better, a life that could be lived worked, and enjoyed with the fun of playing or picnicking in the open, without fear of losing life or limb.
Magawa recently passed away after 8 years on Earth – 5 of the 8 clearing land mines. There is a great deal more that must be done to rid the country of thousands and thousands of land mines. Fortunately, a foundation called Apopo is training other RATS to be like Magawa and follow in his footsteps to GO DO GOOD and clear Cambodia of the deadly mines that have already taken the lives of way too many.
May Magawa’s legacy be so much greater than merely being a RAT!
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