The cover of Grant Hopcraft's thesis.

Serengeti study earns Hopcraft a PhD

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  • Jan. 13, 2011 7:00 a.m.

Former Creston Valley resident Grant Hopcraft successfully presented and defended his thesis at Groningen University in Holland last month, walking away with a PhD in biological sciences.

The son of West Creston residents John and Sandy Hopcraft, Grant has spent the last decade doing research in Africa’s Serengeti region.

“Grant put himself through university by working in the summers as a house painter,” John Hopcraft said last week. “Obviously we are very proud of him.”

John and Sandy, along with their daughter Lynne, who lives and works in Stratford, Ont., attended the PhD ceremony in northern Holland on Dec. 17.

“Holland, along with most of Europe, was in the grip of a major cold snap, with disruptions and delays at most international airports,” John said. “Fortunately, Amsterdam’s Schipol airport was clear.”

Grant, who was born in Africa, began his schooling at Adam Robertson Elementary School, then went on to earn his high school diploma at St. John’s School of Alberta. He took a year off to travel and work through Europe, Africa, Australia and New Zealand before earning his bachelor of science degree in ecology at the University of Victoria.

He then spent three years working with a University of Minnesota professor to research the demographics of lions in the Southern Serengeti in Tanzania.

“The group of lions they studied constituted about 10 prides, which, along with nomadic lions in the region, totalled about 200 animals,” John said.

After earning his master’s degree in zoology at the University of British Columbia, Grant worked with the oldest and most prestigious wildlife research team in the Serengeti, the Frankfurt Zoological Society. He assisted with the Serengeti Ecological Monitoring Project, initiating global positioning systems and a data resource centre in the national park.

John said the PhD presentation and defence was marked with formality and tradition.

“The examining body consisted of five professors from the University of Groningen and three visiting professors from overseas,” he said. “They were conducted into the hall by a sergeant-at-arms with a mace, resplendent in white bow ties, long black robes and four-pointed felt hats.”

Grant was led into the room and questioned for precisely 45 minutes about his thesis, Ecological Implications of Food and Predation Risk for Herbivores in the Serengeti. The professors then retired for a private consultation and then returned to the room.

“There were closing remarks and congratulations on a job well done, thoroughly carried out and presented,” John said. “The remarks ended with the term ‘cum laude’ — we needed to have it all explained to us later!”

“Cum laude”, a Latin term meaning “with praise”, John and Sandra later learned, is a distinction issued at the international level to the top five percent of successful PhD candidates.

“Our family is proud of Grant’s achievement and we are certain the Creston community is, too,” John said.

Grant has returned to Africa to continue his work in the Serengeti.

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