London (CNN)A British soldier was killed by an elephant during an operation against poachers in Malawi, the UK Ministry of Defence said in a statement.
British soldier killed by elephant during anti-poaching operation
Guardsman Matthew Talbot, who died Sunday, was an "exceptionally kind and friendly," person who "was often to be found befriending the locals (in the East African country) and learning their language, which he did remarkably quickly," according to the statement.
His commanding officer Lt. Col. Ed Launders said Talbot was "determined and big-hearted," and had "devoted his life to serving his country."
Company commander Maj. Richard Wright said the soldier, who served in the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, had "bravely lost his life whilst ensuring that endangered species will be around for future generations to learn from and enjoy."
"He was a constant source of morale, even in the direst situations and his infectious humor ensured that his team were constantly smiling too," platoon commander Lt. Hugo Cazalet added.
Malawi was Talbot's first operational deployment, according to the statement.
UK Defense Secretary Penny Mordaunt said that he served with "great courage and professionalism" while carrying out "vital counter-poaching work."
"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 added.
Elephant populations are plummeting across Africa due to severe pressure from poaching and habitat loss.
In 2016 a continent-wide survey showed catastrophic losses, with numbers dipping from 1.3 million in 1979 to around 350,000 -- far lower than expected.
Constant foot patrols and surveillance have helped reduce poaching, according to a 2017 CNN report.