Mammoth hunter gets perfect GPA

June 1, 2007

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By Carol Thorbes

"I am knee deep in office paper some days and knee deep in mud, collecting woolly mammoth teeth, other days—and loving every minute of it," says Grant Zazula (left). The doctoral graduand in biology is this year’s recipient of the Dean’s Graduate Convocation medal in science.

The award goes to students whose cumulative grade point average (CGPA) puts them in the top five percent of graduands in their faculties. Zazula’s CGPA was a perfect 4.33.

Less than two months after defending his doctoral thesis last fall, Zazula landed a job as a palaeontologist in the Yukon’s tourism and culture department in Whitehorse. The former Edmontonian conducts research, manages resources and coordinates public education related to paleontology.

"I’m helping to raise a whole new generation of kids who know about Ice Age ground squirrels, 25,000-year-old volcanic ash and extinct woolly mammoth fossils," says Zazula.

The freshly minted biologist was part of a team that discovered that the Yukon was, 25,000 years ago, a vast home on the range for gigantic mammals such as woolly mammoths.

Many scientists previously believed the Bering land bridge, an unglaciated landmass that once connected the Yukon and Siberia, could not have sustained such mammals and their migration during the coldest period of the Ice Age because it was frozen and too barren.

The debate remained unresolved until Zazula teamed up with other scientists from across Canada to comb the North for plant and insect macrofossil evidence that the landmass wasn’t as inhospitable as thought.

Near Dawson City, Yukon they found a 25,000-year-old mammoth tusk and fossils with bits of ancient plants and insects embedded in surrounding soil. They also found hundreds of prehistoric squirrel nests with fossilized caches of food, seeds, bones and fecal pellets. The discoveries led Zazula to become the lead author of a Nature article, and to publish other articles in journals such as Quaternary Research and Arctic.

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