A British soldier has died while on counter poaching operations in Malawi, the Ministry of Defence has announced.
It is understood that 22-year-old 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, Lt Col Ed Launders, said Talbot “was a determined and big-hearted Coldstreamer who devoted his life to serving his country”.
He was on his first operational deployment when he died, the Ministry of Defence said.
He leaves behind, his father Steven, his mother Michelle and sisters Aimee and Isabel and his girlfriend Olivia.
Launders said: “It was typical of his character to volunteer for an important and challenging role in Malawi. He was hugely proud to 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.”
Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said she was “deeply saddened” to hear of Talbot’s death.
“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 said.
“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.”
Nia Griffith, shadow secretary of state for defence said her thoughts were with Talbot’s family at this difficult time.
She said in a tweet: “It underlines the dedication and selflessness of our Armed Forces personnel serving across the world.”
Several of his colleagues paid tribute to his humour and said he never failed to make them laugh.
Lt Hugo Cazalet, Platoon Commander said he was “an exceptional and unique personality, possessed of a quick and dry wit”.
“He was a proud “Brummie” with an epic work ethic, he always worked hard for his mates and put the needs of the team before his own.
“He was a constant source of morale, even in the direst situations and his infectious humour ensured that his team were constantly smiling too.”
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.