An African giant pouched rat named Magawa has been awarded a prestigious gold medal for his work detecting landmines.

Magawa, who was trained by Tanzania-based charity APOPO, has discovered 39 landmines and 28 unexploded munitions during his career. 

He is the charity's most successful Hero Rat, having cleared more than 141,000 square metres of land - the equivalent of 20 football pitches.

Magawa's brave efforts have earned him a PDSA Gold Medal which is inscribed with the words: "For animal gallantry or devotion to duty". Of the 30 animal recipients of the award, Magawa is the first rat.

Christophe Cox, chief executive of APOPO, said: "To receive this medal is really an honour for us. I have been working with APOPO for over 20 years.

"Especially for our animal trainers who are waking up every day, very early, to train those animals in the morning.

"But also it is big for the people in Cambodia, and all the people around the world who are suffering from landmines. The PDSA Gold Medal award brings the problem of landmines to global attention."

Magawa can search the area of a tennis court in 30 mins / Image: PA Explore

Mr Cox explained that rats are "intelligent" and will work at repetitive tasks for food rewards better than other animals. He said that their size means they are in less danger when they walk through landmine fields.

The rats are trained to detect landmines as well as tuberculosis and require a year of training before they are certified. They work for around half an hour a day, in the early morning.

Once they detect a landmine, they scratch the top, which alerts their human handlers.

"Magawa's work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women and children who are impacted by these landmines" / Image: PA Explore

Magawa, who is now nearing retirement age, can search the area of a tennis court in 30 mins - something that would take a human with a metal detector up to four days.

Jan McLoughlin, who is the director of UK veterinary charity PDSA, said: "Cambodia estimates that between four and six million landmines were laid in the country between 1975 and 1998, which have sadly caused over 64,000 casualties.

"Magawa's work directly saves and changes the lives of men, women and children who are impacted by these landmines. Every discovery he makes reduces the risk of injury or death for local people."

Cambodia has the highest number of mine amputees per capita in the world - more than 40,000 people.