South African conservationist Ian Player, the brother of golfer Gary Player and who was credited with building up the region's rhino population from a perilously small number half a century ago, has died.

The Wilderness Foundation, a conservation group founded by Ian Player, said the 87-year-old conservationist was surrounded by family when he died Sunday at his home.

Rhinos, which are under severe threat from poachers today, also faced a crisis in the 1960s when Player led an operation to move them from a wildlife sanctuary and build populations in other reserves, including Kruger National Park.

Over the years, South Africa's rhino population expanded from several hundred to about 20,000 today, or 80 percent of Africa's rhinos. Poachers have killed more than 1,000 rhinos in South Africa this year.