Richard Erskine Frere Leakey is a paleontologist, archaeologist
and conservationist. He is the second of the three sons of the
archaeologists Louis Leakey and Mary Leakey. A high school drop-out,
Leakey discovered his love of paleontology when he led an expedition
to a fossil site he had discovered while flying. Frustrated by
the lack of recognition he received for his accomplishments due
to his lack of scientific credentials, Leakey left for England
to catch up on his high school education. However, after six months,
Leakey returned home to continue his safaris. He never completed
Leakey started his career following in the footsteps of his famous
parents with discoveries of early hominid fossils in East Africa.
A Homo habilis skull (ER 1470) and a Homo erectus skull (ER 3733),
discovered in 1972 and 1975, respectively, were among the most
significant finds of Leakey's earlier expeditions.
Boy, discovered by Kamoya Kimeu, a member of Leakeys' team in
1984 - was the nearly complete skeleton of a 12-year-old (or possibly
9-year-old) Homo erectus who died 1.6 million years ago. Leakey
and Roger Lewin describe the experience of this find and their
interpretation of it, in their book Origins Reconsidered (1992).
Shortly after the discovery of Turkana Boy, Leakey and his team
made the discovery of a skull of a new species, Australopithecus
aethiopicus (WT 17000).
In 1989 Richard Leakey was appointed the head of the Kenyan Wildlife
Service (KWS) by President Daniel Arap Moi in response to the
international outcry over the poaching of elephants and the impact
it was having on the wildlife of Kenya. With characteristically
bold steps Leakey created special, well-armed anti-poaching units
that were authorized to shoot poachers on sight. The poaching
menace was dramatically reduced. Impressed by Leakey's transformation
of the KWS, the World Bank approved grants worth $140 million.
Leakey, President Arap Moi and the KWS made the international
news headlines when a stock pile of 12 tons of ivory was burned
Leakey's confrontational approach to the issue of human-wildlife
conflict in national parks did not win him friends. His view was
that parks were self-contained ecosystems that had to be fenced
in and the humans kept out. Leakey's bold and incorruptible nature
also offended many local politicians.
1993 Richard Leakey lost both his legs when his propeller-driven
plane crashed. Sabotage was suspected, but never proved. In a
few months Richard Leakey was walking again on artificial limbs.
Around this time the Kenyan government announced that a secret
probe had found evidence of corruption and mismanagement in the
KWS. An annoyed Leakey resigned publically in a press conference
in January 1994. He was replaced by David Western as the head
of the KWS.
Leakey wrote about his experiences at the KWS in his book Wildlife
Wars: My Battle to Save Kenya's Elephants (2001).
In May 1995 Richard Leakey joined a group of Kenyan intellectuals
in launching a new political party - the Safina Party. "If
KANU and Mr. Moi will do something about the deterioration of
public life, corruption and mismanagement, I'd be happy to fight
alongside them. If they won't, I want somebody else to do it,"
announced Richard Leakey. The Safina party was routinely harassed
and even its application to become an official political party
was not approved till 1997.
1999, Moi had to appoint Richard Leakey as Cabinet Secretary and
overall head of the civil service at the insistence of international
donor institutions as a pre-condition for the resumption of donor
funds. Leakey's second stint in the civil service lasted till
2001 when he was forced to resign again.
27 November 2004 edition of the Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation
reported that Dr. Leakey is proposing himself and others for jobs
mankind is special, and in many ways, too.... There is now a critical
need for a deep awareness that, no matter how special we are as
an animal, we are still part of the greater balance of nature....
During that relatively brief span evolutionary pressures forged
a brain capable of profound understanding of matters animate and
inanimate: the fruits of intellectual and technological endeavour
in this latter quarter of the 20th century give us just an inkling
of what the human mind can achieve. The potential is enormous,
almost infinite. We can, if we so choose, do virtually anything."
have been raised to believe in freedom of thought and speech.
If a minority wishes to accept that position it's their right.
What I fear is that this minority may seem to be larger than it
truly is. What is strange is that there are still people who believe
the world is not a globe."
... believe the study of human history remains important and should
not be banned. We should ensure that any archaeological studies
are conducted with sensitivity and respect. Reburying relics,
in my view, does not help anyone go anywhere."
greatest problem we face is the growing number of people living
in poverty. The related sense of hopelessness has to be impacting
on every part of environmental management."