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SOS Rhino : In the News : Top Save the Rhino Researcher Dies At Sea

Top Save the Rhino Researcher Dies At Sea

  The Namibian (Windhoek)

January 21, 2005
Posted to the web January 21, 2005

Maggi Barnard

RHINO conservation in Namibia has lost one of its top researchers with the sudden death of Mike Hearn (33) at Swakopmund on Wednesday.

Hearn, who was director of research at Save the Rhino Trust (SRT), was surfing when he apparently suffered an epileptic fit and drowned.

Colleagues and friends were still in a state of shock and disbelief yesterday.

"It is a huge loss for the SRT," said Rudi Loutit, consultant for SRT and husband of one of the founding members of the NGO, Blythe Loutit.

Hearn, who was based at Palmwag, came to Swakopmund every month for meetings.

He would normally then take time to go surfing - an activity he had started about a year ago.

"He just loved going into the sea," said Erica Brell, a colleague of Hearn.

Paul Lichti, who took up surfing with Hearn and was in the water with him on Wednesday, told The Namibian that they went out between 17h00 and 18h00 at the Wreck surf spot on Strand Street.

"Mike told me he had not been in for a while, and said he was going to take it easy."

He said they both took a wave out.

"I paddled out again and saw Mike resting on his board. I took another wave out and saw his brightly coloured board in the water."

Lichti said he put Hearn's head on his board and took him to shore.

He tried resuscitating him, "but I think he was already gone when I got to him in the water".

Lichti called people on the beach to assist him and to call the emergency services.

International SOS said there was nothing more they could do upon their arrival.

Hearn was on medication for epilepsy.

"I am convinced he suffered a fit," said Lichti.

"The sea was calm, he was a strong swimmer and it did not look like he hit a rock. I could not find any wounds on him."

Hearn, a British citizen, joined the SRT 12 years ago at the age of 21.

Apart from doing very important work on the black rhino for the SRT database, he was working on finalising his PhD this year through the University of Kent in the UK.

Loutit said Hearn was running four other projects, including a UNDP project and one for research students from the US.

He received international recognition for his research and was accepted as member of the African Rhino Specialist Group.

Loutit said only people who had produced work of conservation quality were accepted as members.

Hearn took over from Blythe Loutit when she stepped down as a member.

Hearn leaves behind parents and two brothers, who live in England.

He was described as deeply committed to rhino conservation and wanted to stay on in Namibia.

The Police inquest is expected to be completed today.

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