A British soldier has been killed by an elephant at Liwonde National Park while on a counter-poaching operation with Malawian rangers.
Both African Parks director Patricio Ndadzera and director of parks and wildlife Brighton Kumchedwa confirmed the death of Guardsman Mathew Talbot on Sunday.
The British Ministry of Defence, through the local British High Commission, has since issued a statement saying Talbot, of the First Battalion Coldstream Guards based in Windsor, was part of the team of British troops that are working alongside Malawian park rangers in a counter-poaching training to help save some of the most iconic species from extinction due to illegal wildlife trade.
The statement further said Talbot, a very keen photographer, was documenting his time in the military with countless albums of his work.
Reads the statement in part: “He particularly enjoyed capturing his time in Malawi. Mathew took great pride in being a counter-poaching operator and in what he and the rest of the team was doing in Malawi.
“He was an exceptionally kind and friendly individual. In Malawi, he was often to be found befriending the locals and learning their language, which he did remarkably quickly.”
British Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said he was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Talbot, describing the tragic incident as a reminder of the danger the British 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.
He said: “Throughout his career with the Coldstream Guards, Guardsman Talbot served with great courage and professionalism. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones at this terrible time.”
British news outlets such as The Telegraph and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) yesterday indicated that Talbot, 22, was killed by an elephant and that there were no other injuries to local nationals or other British soldiers.
British soldiers are deployed across Africa to help in the fight against illegal wildlife poaching. Animals under particular threat include elephants, rhinos and lions.
Malawi’s elephant population is estimated to have halved from 4 000 in the 1980s to 2 000 in 2015.
The deployments to Nkhotakota and Majete wildlife reserves in the country started last May, following a successful pilot scheme in Liwonde National Park in 2017.
British troops are training rangers in tracking, general infantry skills and bushcraft, doubling the number of rangers mentored by soldiers in Malawi to 120.
Last year, 1 000kgs of ivory were seized and 114 arrests made, a ten-fold increase in detentions compared to 2015, according to The Telegraph.
The UK government has pledged £26 million up to 2020 to help fight the illegal wildlife trade.
All three parks in Malawi, Nkhotakota, Majete and Liwonde, are managed by African Parks, a non-profit conservation organisation, in partnership with Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife.