A Brazilian ecologist who won international acclaim for his efforts to preserve the Amazon rainforests was shot dead Thursday night, police said.

Francisco Mendes, 44, was shot near his house in the town of Xapuri in Acre state by a gunman who fired one shot into his chest from a distance of two yards, police said on Friday.Mendes, a rubber tapper who had been under police guard following threats against him, was alone when he was gunned down after dinner while walking from his house to take a shower in the bathhouse across the yard, police said.

Federal police superintendent Mauro Esposito told Reuters by telephone from the Acre capital Rio Branco that two cattle ranchers were suspected of ordering Mendes' murder.