A 22-year-old British soldier who was on his first operational deployment was killed by an elephant during a counter-poaching operation in Malawi on May 5.
Guardsman Mathew Talbot, 22, of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards Mathew Talbot, was patrolling in Liwonde National Park, in the south of Malawi when the incident happened, according to the British Ministry of Defence.
“This tragic incident is a reminder of the danger our military faces as they protect some of the world’s most endangered species from those who seek to profit from the criminal slaughter of wildlife,” Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said in a statement.
“Throughout his career with the Coldstream Guards, Guardsman Talbot served with great courage and professionalism, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones at this terrible time,” Mordaunt said.
Last year the United Kingdom government developed a counter-poaching task force after announcing the funding of over $1 million (£900,000), according to Forces Network.
Elephants, rhinos and lions are among the most threatened species in Africa, according to Metro, and the elephant population in Malawi has decreased from 4000 to 2000 in the last 30 years.
A statement by the Ministry of Defence said Talbot was familiar with Africa and had volunteered to support counter-poaching operations in Malawi.
“With his keen interest in military history he was proud to have joined a regiment with such a rich and long lineage,” the statement said.
Talbot’s company commander, Maj Richard Wright, said that he got acquainted with the young soldier only recently but “he never failed to make me smile.”
The deceased was described by his commanding officer, Lt Col Ed Launders as “determined and big-hearted.”
“Mathew was loved by his brothers in arms in the Coldstream Guards. We will sorely miss his humor, selflessness and unbeatable spirit.” Launders said.
The MoD said Talbot was friendly with local people and also learned some of their language.
“A true Coldstreamer, fit, energetic and full of selfless commitment, Gdsm Talbot bravely lost his life whilst ensuring that endangered species will be around for future generations to learn from and enjoy,” Maj. Wright said.
It is with great sadness that the MOD must confirm the death of Guardsman Mathew Talbot of 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards in Malawi on Sunday 5 May 2019. He was deployed as part of a counter poaching operation.
— British Army (@BritishArmy) May 7, 2019
UK’s Counter-Poaching Task Force
The United Kingdom announced its deployment of an anti-poaching task force in May 2018.
The troops are training 120 rangers in tracking, infantry, bushcraft and information analysis skills, according to the BBC.
There are currently 30 British troops in Malawi positioned all over Nkhotakota and Majete wildlife reserves, following a successful project in Liwonde National Park in 2017, reported Metro.
Liwonde National Park was losing one elephant every week and one rhino every month when the troops were first deployed.
“What we can do to support African nations to deal with this is so incredibly important,” said Gavin Williamson, who was UK’s Defence Secretary last year.
Williamson said that wildlife tourism is rapidly growing in Africa and it is important to keep the animals safe.
“We’re enthusiastic about this mission because it represents a real opportunity to pass on our expertise and build partnerships with counterparts who are working night and day to help protect these animals,” said Major James Cowen, the leader of the deployment in Malawi.