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Magawa the rat, peeking over a wall. Magawa is wearing a gold medal.
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Top Photo: Magawa shows off his PDSA Gold Medal. Image credits: PDSA/PA

Last month, a British charity awarded its gold medal award to a 7-year-old named Magawa for his life-saving bravery and devotion to duty.

Who’s Magawa? A bomb-sniffing rat who lives in Cambodia. Yes, a rat.

Magawa is one of the HeroRATs trained by APOPO, a charity in Tanzania that trains rats to save lives. In some countries where there have been wars, there are unexploded bombs that injure or kill innocent people. Magawa is trained to detect a specific type of explosive: mines, which are hidden usually in the dirt.

“APOPO’s HeroRATs significantly speed up landmine detection using their amazing sense of smell and excellent memory,” said Christophe Cox, CEO of APOPO. “Unlike metal detectors, the rats ignore scrap metal and only sniff out explosives making them fast and efficient landmine detectors.”  

The training takes about a year to complete, and the rats are trained using clicker training, a positive teaching method used for other animals as well. The rats are taught to scratch at the earth above a landmine. When they find and identify the correct scent to their handler, they hear a click and receive a tasty treat as a reward. Because the rats are so light, there’s little risk that they will DETONATE a mine.

Magawa's well-trained sniffing skills allow him to search an area as big as a tennis court in only 30 minutes. It would take a human four days to do the same job! Amazingly, Magawa has helped to clear more than 141,000 square meters of land, making it safe and useful for the people who live there. Magawa’s keen sniffing sense has allowed him to find 39 landmines and 28 other bombs!

Magawa is eyeing retirement, and APOPO said they are thankful for the work the rats do and that they’re very well treated when they retire. It seems only fitting that Magawa would be honored before his retirement with a special gold award that was small enough for him to wear!

Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg Remembered

Ruth Bader Ginsburg sitting in chair wearing judge's robe.Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second female US Supreme Court justice, died last month at the age of 87.

Joan Ruth Bader was born in 1933 in Brooklyn, New York. She went to college at Cornell University and was one of only nine women in a class of 541 students at Harvard Law School in 1956. She married Martin Ginsburg in 1954 and changed her name to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The pair had two children.

At the time, women were treated, by law, differently than men. Ginsburg faced discrimination in her career because she was a woman and because she was Jewish. After law school, Ginsburg worked as a law clerk and a law school professor.

In the 1970s, she also served as General Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and launched the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. She worked as an appellate court judge before being appointed to the US Supreme Court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. She played a role in deciding some of the court’s most high profile cases in her 27 years with the nation’s highest court.

Ginsburg became almost as well-known for personal traits as she did her dissenting opinions. She jazzed up her black robes with some impressive neckwear, and she often used her neck pieces to send a subtle message. The most famous among these is arguably her dissenting collar, which she would wear when she wanted to express her disagreement with a court opinion.

One of the other qualities attributed to RBG, a common nickname, was her ability to get along with those who held different views on the law. Ginsburg and Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016 and was notoriously conservative, were close friends. Scalia jokingly suggested people call them the “odd couple” and Ginsburg made similar comments about their friendship.

“What endeared me most to him was his wonderful sense of humor. He would sometimes pass me notes that cracked me up,” Ginsburg said in 2015.

Chief Justice John Roberts, another justice who commonly disagreed with Ginsburg on the law, described her as a "tireless and resolute champion of justice" as he mourned the loss of his "cherished colleague.”

October 2020