Harare - A conservationist working with endangered painted dogs near Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park has been found battered to death in his cottage, friends said on Thursday.Gregory Gibbard, an Australian who had worked for some time as an administrator for Painted Dog Conservation, was axed to death on Tuesday night, a friend told News24."He was hit twice in the head apparently, with what sounds to have been an axe," the friend, who asked not to be identified, said in a telephone interview."It is assumed that the motive was robbery but this kind of attack is excessively unusual in Zimbabwe," he added.Gibbard's cottage is located near Hwange airport, just outside Hwange National Park, which is in the west of Zimbabwe.Police are understood to be investigating but there are no reports of arrests so far.Painted Dog Conservation said in a brief statement: "It comes with great sadness that we need to inform you that one of our founding PDC Inc members and friend Greg Gibbard... was tragically murdered on Tuesday night at the project headquarters."‘Tragic’Friends took to Facebook to express their shock at Gibbard's murder."Goodbye my dear friend. So sorry. Wish we had a chance to have spoken one more time," said Colin Yapp.Sharon Stead wrote: "Absolutely tragic - his death has rocked the Hwange community."Painted dogs are also known as African wild dogs. They are among the continent's most endangered wildlife species.In its February newsletter Painted Dog Conservation spoke movingly of the links forged between the NGO and the local community, whose head was only identified as Chief Nelukoba. Fifty members of the community have recently volunteered to be part of anti-poaching and anti-snaring patrols, the newsletter said."Painted Dog Conservation has been operating there for a long time," Gibbard's friend confirmed on Thursday.