Anton Mzimba, 42, Head of Ranger Services of the Timbavati private game reserve near the famous Kruger National Park in northeastern South Africa, was shot dead on Tuesday as he left his home, the South African ministry of Environment said.
"Anton Mzimba was an exceptionally passionate, courageous, and spiritual man [...] a rhino warrior, a wildlife guardian, a loved one, a comrade, a friend and a true legend", the Timbavati game reserve said.
If the details surrounding his murder are unclear, the British association Helping Rhinos alleged that the 42-year-old had received "death threats" lately.
Almost 80% of the world's rhinos are found in South Africa. This makes it a hotbed of poaching for this endangered species, fuelled by demand from Asia, where it is believed the horns have medicinal properties.
Anton won the Field Ranger Award at the Rhino Conservation Awards in 2020. Prince William honored a "committed and brave" ranger.
The South African government said the killing illustrates the dangers faced by wildlife conservationists in the country. More than 450 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa in 2021, according to official figures.