A British soldier has died in Malawi during counter-poaching operations, the Ministry of Defence has said.
Mathew Talbot, 22, of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, was on a patrol on 5 May when he was killed by an elephant.
His commanding officer, Lt Col Ed Launders, described Guardsman Talbot as “determined and big-hearted”.
Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said he served with “great courage and professionalism” and was carrying out “vital” counter-poaching work.
She added: “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.”
Gdsm Talbot, who was from the West Midlands, was serving in his first operational deployment, the MoD said.
He was killed in Liwonde National Park, in the south of Malawi.
He leaves behind his father Steven, his mother Michelle, his sisters Aimee and Isabel, and his girlfriend, Olivia.
In a statement, the MoD said Gdsm Talbot “was not unfamiliar” with Africa and had volunteered to support counter-poaching in Malawi.
“With his keen interest in military history he was proud to have joined a regiment with such a rich and long lineage,” it added.
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.
The former defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, announced the expansion of the UK’s counter-poaching training at two parks in Malawi – doubling the number of rangers mentored by soldiers to 120 – in 2018.
Gdsm Talbot’s company commander, Maj Richard Wright, said that while he had only known the soldier for a short time, “he never failed to make me smile”.
Lt Col Launders added: “Mathew was loved by his brothers in arms in the Coldstream Guards. We will sorely miss his humour, selflessness and unbeatable spirit.”
Shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith described the death as “tragic news”.
She added: “It underlines the dedication and selflessness of our armed forces personnel serving across the world.
“My thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.”
A British soldier on fighting poachers in Malawi
The appearance of two British Army 4x4s in Malawi’s Majete Wildlife Reserve turns heads as they leave the villages and make their way into the bush.
L/Cpl Chad Spalding is one of the British soldiers on board, trying to help stop poaching.
He is about to spend the next few days with local rangers Boston Phiri, who is pretty new to the job, and Retief Chomali, who has 10 years’ experience.
“Most of the time you’re concentrating on the environment itself,” he says. “You’re constantly looking, watching dangerous game, anything that might sneak up on you.”