Leakey, Richard

Leakey, Richard
▪ 1995

      In January 1994 Richard Leakey resigned from his position as director of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), after being accused of arrogance, corruption, and racism by high-ranking Kenyan officials. The famed paleontologist and conservationist was caught up in this political maelstrom while still learning to walk on artificial limbs, the result of a plane crash the previous September in which he lost both legs.

      Following Leakey's resignation, Kenyan Pres. Daniel arap Moi recalled him to his position at the beginning of March, but Leakey, a white Kenyan citizen, resigned once again two weeks later, citing unacceptable government restrictions as the reason for his abrupt departure. His successor, David Western, was also a white Kenyan and a well-known conservationist.

      Leakey was first appointed director of the KWS in 1989 by President Moi. He was given broad powers and was widely praised for reducing corruption within KWS, instituting and maintaining a strong policy against ivory poachers, and restoring the security of the national parks. Described as unconventional, tough, and abrasive, Leakey was a strong presence in the Kenyan government, devoted to the preservation of Kenya's wildlife and sanctuaries. As director, however, he made enemies by resisting the efforts of politicians to obtain land from wildlife sanctuaries for commercial purposes.

      Leakey's supporters claimed that his departure would hurt Kenya, a country that was regarded as a world leader in wildlife conservation. In fact, Kenya's $450 million-per-year tourism industry was based on its marine and animal parks. Foreign donors expressed concern about the political turmoil surrounding the KWS, and the Kenyan government became apprehensive about losing overseas loans and other monetary support for wildlife conservation, much of which had actually been attracted by Leakey.

      Leakey was born on Dec. 19, 1944, in Nairobi, Kenya, to noted anthropologists Mary and Louis S.B. Leakey. He was initially reluctant to follow in his parents' footsteps and in 1961 started his own safari business in Kenya. While exploring the Lake Natron area in 1963, he found an australopithecine jaw and decided that he would indeed become an anthropologist. He then went to London, where he completed a two-year secondary education program in six months. However, he became low on funds, lost interest in academics, and returned to Kenya.

      Leakey became best known in the scientific world for his work at the Koobi Fora site on the shores of Lake Turkana in Kenya. This site, which had yielded a remarkable collection of fossils, compelled scholars to revise their views on human development. With his wife, Meave G. Leakey, he coedited volume one of Koobi Fora Research Projects (1978). Leakey's other writing includes three books in collaboration with the science writer Roger Lewin: Origins (1977), People of the Lake: Mankind and Its Beginnings (1978), and Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes Us Human (1992). (AMANDA E. FULLER)

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▪ Kenyan anthropologist, government official, and paleontologist
in full  Richard Erskine Frere Leakey 
born December 19, 1944, Nairobi, Kenya
 Kenyan anthropologist, conservationist, and political figure who was responsible for extensive fossil finds related to human evolution and who campaigned publicly for responsible management of the environment in East Africa.

 The son of noted anthropologists Louis S.B. Leakey (Leakey, Louis S.B.) and Mary Leakey (Leakey, Mary Douglas), Richard was originally reluctant to follow his parents' career and instead became a safari guide. In 1967 he joined an expedition to the Omo River valley in Ethiopia. It was during this trip that he first noticed the site of Koobi Fora, along the shores of Lake Turkana (Lake Rudolf (Rudolf, Lake)) in Kenya, where he led a preliminary search that uncovered several stone tools. From this site alone in the subsequent decade, Leakey and his fellow workers uncovered some 400 hominin fossils representing perhaps 230 individuals, making Koobi Fora the site of the richest and most varied assemblage of early human remains found to date anywhere in the world.

      Leakey proposed controversial interpretations of his fossil finds. In two books written with science writer Roger Lewin, Origins (1977) and People of the Lake (1978), Leakey presented his view that, some 3 million years ago, three hominin forms coexisted: Homo habilis, Australopithecus africanus (Australopithecus), and Australopithecus boisei. He argued that the two australopith forms eventually died out and that H. habilis evolved into Homo erectus, the direct ancestor of Homo sapiens, or modern human beings. He claimed to have found evidence at Koobi Fora to support this theory. Of particular importance is an almost completely reconstructed fossil skull found in more than 300 fragments in 1972 (coded as KNM-ER 1470). Leakey believed that the skull represented H. habilis and that this relatively large-brained, upright, bipedal form of Homo lived in eastern Africa as early as 2.5 million or even 3.5 million years ago. Further elaboration of Leakey's views was given in his work The Making of Mankind (1981).

      From 1968 to 1989 Leakey was director of the National Museums of Kenya. In 1989 he was made director of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Department (the precursor to the Kenya Wildlife Service [KWS]). Devoted to the preservation of Kenya's wildlife and sanctuaries, he embarked on a campaign to reduce corruption within the KWS, crack down (often using force) on ivory poachers, and restore the security of Kenya's national parks. In doing so he made numerous enemies. In 1993 he survived a plane crash in which he lost both his legs below the knee. The following year he resigned his post at the KWS, citing interference by Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi (Moi, Daniel arap)'s government, and became a founding member of the opposition political party Safina (Swahili for “Noah's ark”). Pressure by foreign donors led to Leakey's brief return to the KWS (1998–99) and to a short stint as secretary to the cabinet (1999–2001). Thereafter he dedicated himself to lecturing and writing on the conservation of wildlife and the environment. Another book with Roger Lewin was The Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future of Humankind (1995), in which he argued that human beings have been responsible for a catastrophic reduction in the number of plant and animal species living on the Earth. Leakey later collaborated with Virginia Morell to write his second memoir, Wildlife Wars: My Fight to Save Africa's Natural Treasures (2001; his first memoir, One Life, was written in 1983). In 2004 Leakey founded WildlifeDirect, an Internet-based nonprofit conservation organization designed to disseminate information about endangered species and to connect donors to conservation efforts. He also served in 2007 as interim chair of the Kenya branch of Transparency International, a global coalition against corruption.

      Leakey's wife, zoologist Meave Leakey (Leakey, Meave G.) (née Epps), conducted numerous paleoanthropological projects in the Turkana region, often in collaboration with their daughter Louise (b. 1972). In 1998 her team discovered fossil remains, more than three million years old, of a hominin that she named Kenyanthropus platyops.

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Universalium. 2010.

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  • Leakey , Richard Erskine — (1944–) Kenyan anthropologist Richard Leakey was born at Nairobi in Kenya, the son of the famous scholars Louis and Mary Leakey. Having left school at sixteen, he first worked as a hunter and animal collector before turning in 1964 to the search… …   Scientists

  • Richard Leakey — Richard Erskine Frere Leakey (born 19 December 1944 in Nairobi, Kenya), is a Kenyan politician, paleoanthropologist and conservationist. He is second of the three sons of the archaeologists Louis Leakey and Mary Leakey, and is the younger brother …   Wikipedia

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  • Richard Leakey — Pour les autres membres de la famille, voir : Leakey. Richard Leakey (né le 19 décembre 1944 à Nairobi) est un paléoanthropologue kenyan. Il est le deuxième des trois fils de Louis et Mary Leakey. Il a travaillé dans la partie Est de l… …   Wikipédia en Français

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  • Leakey — noun 1. English paleontologist (son of Louis Leakey and Mary Leakey) who continued the work of his parents; he was appointed director of a wildlife preserve in Kenya but resigned under political pressure (born in 1944) • Syn: ↑Richard Leakey,… …   Useful english dictionary

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