The Ministry of Defense (MoD) confirmed that Guardsman Mathew Talbot was killed on May 5 in Malawi.
According to various sources, including The Associated Press and the official armed forces media, Talbot was killed by an elephant. He was part of a group of around 30 soldiers deployed to the African country to train rangers tasked with stemming the flow of the lucrative ivory trade.
Defense Secretary Penny Mordaunt said, “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.”
There currently aren’t any details on how Talbot was killed.
A Frank Sinatra fan and an avid reader of military history, Talbot often was found befriending the locals and learning their language during his posting in Malawi, according to the Ministry of Defense.
“Mathew was a unique character and genuine guy,” said Lance Sergeant Louis Bolton, in the MoD statement. “Loved and trusted by all who cared for him. I can honestly say that no matter the time of day or situation he was in, he was always laughing and cracking jokes—we loved him for it.”
The British army has been in Malawi since 2016, passing on military skills to rangers who have to hunt gangs of poachers—who are often ex-military.
“Asking rangers wearing flip flops, carrying field kit in shopping bags and bearing rifles they may never have fired, to apprehend ex-military poaching gangs is a tall order,” Captain Luke Townsend, a specialist in counter-poaching, told The Telegraph. “Which is why the efforts of British troops in shouldering this burden are massively appreciated.”
The elephant population in Malawi plummeted by 71 percent from 2002 to 2006, according to Lilongwe Wildlife Trust in Malawi.
According to the trust, the number of elephants killed in Africa has doubled over the last decade, and the amount of ivory seized has tripled.
A single dead elephant’s tusks are estimated to have a raw value of $21,000 but, in comparison, the estimated tourism value of a single living elephant is more than $1.6 million over its lifetime to travel companies, airlines, and local economies.
In Botswana, which is home to around one-third of Africa’s elephants, the government recently proposed lifting a ban on elephant hunting, stirring the ire of some animal rights groups and conservationists.
According to some conservationists and hunters, such as prolific hunter Ron Thompson, the 130,000-strong elephant population is too high, resulting in the destruction of the environment for other animals.
For example, says Thompson, in allowing the elephants to wreck their habitat, much of the elephants’ feeding grounds have been destroyed. That means daily long walks between the waterhole and the feeding grounds. Once that distance goes beyond 15 miles, the mothers can no longer lactate, resulting in growing numbers of baby elephants seen abandoned and dying.