A British soldier has been killed by an elephant while carrying out anti-poaching work in Malawi.
Guardsman Mathew Talbot, of The 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, died on Sunday on his first operational deployment.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed the 23-year-old, from Birmingham, had been on patrol in Liwonde National Park when he was killed by an elephant in long grass.
It is understood that there were no other injuries to locals or other British soldiers.
Prince William, a fierce critic of poaching, is believed to have written to Guardsman Talbot’s family to offer his condolences. It is understood the group was patrolling in Liwonde National Park in the south of Malawi.
Guardsman Mathew Talbot (pictured) died on Sunday, Britain’s Ministry of Defence confirmed
Prince Harry visited Liwonde in 2016 and took part in an operation moving elephants 200 miles to another reserve. He also observed anti-poaching projects there, spending almost three weeks working on the initiative. He described being around elephants as a unique experience.
Company Commander Major Richard Wright said Mr Talbot ‘bravely lost his life whilst ensuring that endangered species will be around for future generations’.
Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said: ‘I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Guardsman Mathew Talbot, who died while carrying out vital counter-poaching work in Malawi.
‘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.
Mr Talbot was helping anti-poaching efforts in Malawi when he was attacked and killed by an elephant in tall grass
Mr Talbot had volunteered for the mission in Malawi, where the MoD said he made an effort to befriend locals and learn their language
‘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.’
The guardsman was described by the MoD as an ‘exceptionally kind and friendly individual’ who was often to be found befriending locals and learning their language.
Mr Talbot became good friends with the Gurkas attached to the regiment, and was learning Nepali before he died.
He was also described as a very keen photographer, documenting his time in the military with albums of his work.
British soldiers in the fight against poachers
UK troops have been deployed to tackle illegal poaching in Africa for years in an effort to bring down criminal networks making billions off the trade in illegal animal parts.
The mission in Malawi began last year following a successful pilot scheme in 2017, and focuses on training Malawi’s rangers in tracking, bushcraft, infantry skills and information analysis.
At least 120 rangers have been mentored by British soldiers so far.
Former members of the UK intelligence community are also being used to provide intelligence-gathering training, using skills from Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Iraq to help track and break up poaching networks.
Last year more than 2,000lbs (1,000kg) of ivory was seized and 114 arrests made, a ten-fold increase in compared with 2015.
The UK government has pledged £26 million up to 2020 to help fight the illegal wildlife trade.
Smuggling animal parts is thought to be the fourth largest illegal market in the world, after people, drugs, and weapons.
Malawi’s elephant population is estimated to have halved from 4,000 in the 1980s to 2,000 in 2015.
The mission to protect endangered African Elephants (file picture) was Mr Talbot’s first foreign deployment for the Coldstream Guards
Mr Talbot trained at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate and then the Infantry Training Centre at Catterick after joining the military, before spending a year carrying out ceremonial duties in London.
He was then assigned to the Coldstream Guards and was transferred to Windsor.
Mr Talbot had previously taken part in a training exercise in Kenya, but Malawi was his first overseas deployment after he volunteered for the assignment.
The MoD statement said: ‘He particularly enjoyed capturing his time in Malawi. He loved music and his close friends will remember him as a big fan of Frank Sinatra. Mathew was an avid reader of military history and he was incredibly proud to serve in a regiment that had such a long an illustrious history.’
His commanding officer, Lt Col Ed Launders, said Guardsman Talbot ‘was a determined and big-hearted Coldstreamer who devoted his life to serving his country’ and ‘tragically died doing great good’.
Company Commander Major Richard Wright added that in the short time he knew Guardsman Talbot ‘he never failed to make me smile’.
Guardsman Mathew Talbot, of The 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, died on Sunday on his first operational deployment. Soldiers from the Coldstream Guards are pictured in Malawi in April
Coldstream Guards are pictured releasing a snare from an animal trapped in woodland in Malawi in April
Prince Harry works in Malawi in 2016. He says of this picture: ‘A few of us trying to ‘tip an elephant’. This young male was fighting the sedative drug and was heading towards the trees, which would have made it very difficult for us to get him on the truck’
He said: ‘A true Coldstreamer, fit, energetic and full of selfless commitment, Guardsman Talbot bravely lost his life whilst ensuring that endangered species will be around for future generations to learn from and enjoy.’
On completion of his military training at AFC Harrogate and then ITC Catterick Gdsm Talbot was posted to Number 7 Company Coldstream Guards, based in London where he spent the first, formative year of his career conducting State Ceremonial and Public Duties.
Since then he has been serving with The 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, based in Windsor. The deployment to Malawi was his first operational deployment.
He leaves behind his father Steven, his mother Michelle and sisters Aimee and Isabel, and Olivia his girlfriend, Mr Wright added.