A British soldier has died while on counter-poaching operations in Malawi, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has announced.
It is understood that Mathew Talbot, of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, was on patrol in Liwonde National Park on May 5 when he was killed by an elephant.
His commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ed Launders, described the 22-year-old as a “determined and big-hearted” man, who devoted his life to serving his country.
“It was typical of his character to volunteer for an important and challenging role in Malawi,” Lt Col Launders added.
“He was hugely proud of his work as a counter-poaching operator, and tragically died doing great good.
“Mathew was loved by his brothers in arms in the Coldstream Guards. We will sorely miss his humour, selflessness and unbeatable spirit.
“My deepest condolences go to his parents, family and loved ones. My thoughts and prayers are with them at this desperately sad time.”
The Duke of Cambridge will write to the family of Guardsman Talbot, to offer his condolences and urge the importance of the anti-poaching work that was being carried out, Kensington Palace said.
With more than 30 British troops currently based in Malawi, where they are working to combat poaching, the MoD said this was Guardsman Talbot’s first operational deployment.
The MoD said he was an “exceptionally kind and friendly individual” who would often befriend locals and learn their language.
His company commander, Major Richard Wright, said: “Guardsman Talbot bravely lost his life whilst ensuring that endangered species will be around for future generations to learn from and enjoy.”
Maj Wright said the loss of Guardsman Talbot would be felt throughout the battalion, adding that he leaves behind his father Steven, mother Michelle, sisters Aimee and Isabel, and girlfriend Olivia.
Those that worked with him and were closest to Guardsman Talbot have described him as a “proud Brummie”, who was hard-working and always “laughing and cracking jokes”.
Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said Guardsman Talbot served with “great courage and professionalism”, and was carrying out “vital” anti-poaching work.
“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,” she added.
Defence minister Tobias Ellwood said the “untimely death” showed that soldiers face dangers in many aspects of the job they do.
He told Forces News: “It shows you that this may not have been a battlefield but it shows you that there’s dangers inherent right across what our armed forces do. It’s truly sad to learn of his untimely death and our thoughts and prayers are very much with his friends and family at this moment.”
He said: “He was doing an important job and I know that’s something that he loved as well.”
Operation Corded, the name given to the Army’s counter-poaching deployment in Malawi, assists in the training of rangers in a bid to help them crack down on the illegal wildlife trade.
Park rangers are taught skills such as tracking, partnered patrolling, communications, surveillance, and intelligence-sharing – with the first deployment taking place in August 2017.