British Army Coldstream Guards counter-poaching Op CORDED Malawi (British Army, 2018)

Operation CORDED: The British Army in Malawi

British Army Counter-Poaching Operations in Malawi

Operation CORDED is the codename given to the British Army’s involvement in the fight against poaching in the African country of Malawi. Estimated to be worth £7 to £17 billion, poaching is a serious threat to many endangered species, including elephants, rhinoceroses and lions.

Soldiers from the Grenadier Guards and other unidentified units were deployed to Liwonde National Park in Malawi in 2017 for a three-month tour.

Patrolling the 548 square kilometres of the Park, soldiers removed traps set by poachers and honed their own tracking skills. 362 traps were removed during the three-month deployment.

However, the main task of Op CORDED is to train the rangers responsible for the day-to-day protection of the Park. As well as training the rangers in tracking, bushcraft and information analysis to improve the interception of poachers, the soldiers, designated as Counter-Poaching Operatives (CPOs), also taught infantry skills. Poachers are armed with AK-47s, spears and knives, and over 100 African rangers lost their lives in one year alone.

Initial reporting described this deployment as involving “seven specially trained troops”. This could mean seven individuals or seven groups of individuals: technically, a troop is a military unit, not a person (that would be a trooper).

Liwonde Park Manager, Craig Reid, said that “The MOD deployment to Liwonde in 2017 was very beneficial to the African Parks effort in securing the integrity of this park which was once overrun with poaching.”

Malawi is one of the world’s least-developed countries. The economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, with a largely rural population. The Malawian government relies on external aid to meet development needs, with serious challenges in building and expanding the economy, improving education, healthcare, environmental protection, and becoming financially independent amidst widespread unemployment.

The Army announced further deployments in February 2018, seeing soldiers being sent to the Nkhotakota and Majete Wildlife Reserves in May 2018.

This training team of over 20 soldiers (yes, they said “troops” again) meant that the number of rangers being mentored under Op CODRED doubled to 120.

Soldiers also used a drone to assist in finding and arresting poachers. The drone was equipped with HD camera and infra-red capability.

“By providing training and mentoring to the park rangers,” said then Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, “they will form a skilled network to ensure that the world’s precious species are here for generations to come.”

Training in the two new parks was funded by Britain’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund.

Major James Cowen, Coldstream Guards, leading the deployment in Malawi, said: “We’re enthusiastic about this mission because it represents a real opportunity to pass on our expertise and build partnerships with counterparts who are working night and day to help protect these animals.”

On 5 May 2019, Guardsman Matthew Talbot, 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards, was killed by an elephant while on counter-poaching duties.

The British Army is also involved in counter-poaching operations in South Africa, Gabon and Malaysia.

Sources: MOD, British Army,

Image: soldiers from the 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards, on patrol in Malawi as part of Operation CORDED (Coldstream Guards, 2018).