The Ministry of Defence has announced that Guardsman Mathew Talbot, 23, from the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, was tragically killed by an elephant, while involved in anti-poaching operations in Malawi. The incident reportedly happened on Sunday, 5 May 2019 and no other British soldiers or Malawian nationals were injured.

The British military personnel have been training game rangers in general infantry, animal tracking and bushcraft in recent times and the BBC reports that the number of rangers trained by the soldiers is now 120.

Guardsman tragically killed by elephant

The Telegraph quotes Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt as saying she was “deeply saddened” by the death of Guardsman Mathew Talbot while involved in counter-poaching efforts in Malawi. Mordaunt went on to say the tragic incident highlights the dangers the British military face while protecting some of the world’s most highly endangered species. Talbot’s death was particularly tragic as poachers continue to criminally slaughter wildlife.

The Defence Secretary said Guardsman Talbot has served with the Coldstream Guards with “great courage and professionalism.” She went on to send their thoughts and prayers to his family and loved ones.

Guardsman Talbot was serving in Number 7 Company of the Coldstream Guards since he completed his military training and had been based in Windsor at the time of his death. He was described as being a keen photographer, an avid reader of military history and a great fan of singer Frank Sinatra.

His colleague, Lance Sergeant Louis Bolton, said of Talbot that it was difficult to find the right words at a sad time like this, but he said the Guardsman will be truly missed.

Bolton said Mathew was a “genuine guy” and a “unique character,” who was loved and trusted by everyone. He said that Talbot was always “cracking jokes,” no matter what situation he was in at the time. Meanwhile, Talbot’s Platoon Commander, Lieutenant Hugo Cazalet said the Guardsman had an “exceptional and unique personality.”

Anti-poaching efforts by the British military

At present, many British troops are deployed in a number of African countries to help in the fight against wildlife poaching.

It was a year ago that deployments were made to the Majete and Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserves in Malawi, after a pilot scheme was successfully run in Liwonde National Park back in 2017. All three of the Malawian parks are managed by African Parks, which is a non-profit organisation involved in animal conservation.

The training offered by British troops to local game rangers was funded by the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund, run by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

In late 2018, the fund was boosted by almost £1 million in extra funding. A portion of the additional funding went to the Wildlife Crimes Investigations and Intelligence Unit, which seized 1,000 kg of illegal ivory last year and made 114 arrests. The government has pledged to offer additional funding of £26 million by 2020 in the fight against poaching.

The species particularly threatened at this time include rhinos, elephants and lions. The Telegraph noted that the elephant population in Malawi is thought to have halved in number from 4,000 during the 1980s to only 2,000 elephants in 2015.

Necessity of stamping out poaching

Reportedly the current illegal trade in wildlife has been rated the fourth-most lucrative organised crime throughout the world, only slightly behind drug, weapon and people smuggling. Reportedly it is thought that poaching is worth around £17 billion each year globally, with rhino horn being more expensive than gold, cocaine and heroin.