Leading ornithologist Phil Hockey dies

25 January 2013 | Story by Newsroom
Great loss: UCT mourns the death of ornithologist Prof Phil Hockey who died of cancer on 24 January.
Great loss: UCT mourns the death of ornithologist Prof Phil Hockey who died of cancer on 24 January.

UCT is saddened by the death of Professor Philip Hockey, director of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology and a leading global authority in the field, who died of cancer on 24 January.

The Percy FitzPatrick Institute is one of UCT's two DST/NRF Centres of Excellence. Hockey was instrumental in elevating the centre to one of the top three in the world.

His academic standing was impeccable and he was much loved by those he taught, supervised or lectured. Recognised as an expert in his field, he was often interviewed on radio and television. He leaves UCT with an invaluable resource with his work as co-author of the best-selling regional field guide, Sasol Birds of Southern Africa, and as editor-in-chief, along with Richard Dean and Associate Professor Peter Ryan, of the seventh edition of Roberts - Birds of Southern Africa.

Most of Hockey's research focused on coastal and estuarine bird ecology. He led research expeditions to Chile, the Canary Island, Mauritius, the Seychelles, Kenya, Madagascar, the Arabian Gulf and Namibia. His research included the ecology of bird movement and migration, as well as avian life history evolution, with the aim of analysing and predicting avian responses to climate change, as well as promoting appropriate conservation strategies.

Born in England in 1956, he obtained his BSc honours degree in ecological science at Edinburgh University in 1977. He moved to South Africa and joined the Percy FitzPatrick Institute in 1979. He obtained his PhD from UCT in 1983 for a study of the ecology of the African Black Oystercatcher.

Hockey was appointed the institute's director in July 2008 and was a member of the advisory services of 17 learned societies, councils and steering committees. During his time at the institute, 33 MSc students and 18 PhD students under his supervision were awarded their degrees. Their research has been widely disseminated.

In 2008 Hockey was awarded the Stevenson-Hamilton Medal of the Zoological Society of Southern Africa for contributions to the public awareness of science. He was also earlier named the Marine and Coastal Communicator of the Year by the South African Network for Coastal and Oceanic Research.

UCT extends heartfelt condolences to Hockey's wife, Samantha.

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