A new chief ranger has been appointed at South Africa's biggest national park, a major tourist attraction whose managers are struggling to stem record levels of rhino poaching.

South Africa's national parks service said Tuesday that Xolani Nicholus Funda, a former ranger who has also been a university lecturer in nature conservation, took over the top ranger post at Kruger National Park this month.

Park officials say Funda's past conservation work with local communities is critical because people living on the borders of national parks are key to thwarting wildlife crime.

Funda replaces Johan Jooste, a former military officer who has described the campaign against rhino poaching as a war. The South African government says poachers killed a record 1,215 rhinos in the country last year.