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Dr. Richard Leakey Biography, Discoveries, Books and Family

Dr. Richard Leakey Biography

Dr. Richard Leakey (Richard Erskine Frere Leakey) was born on 19th December 1944 in Nairobi, Kenya, Kenya. He is a kenyan anthropologist, conservationist, and politician.

Dr. Richard Leakey Discoveries

At 16 years, Dr. Richard Leakey dropped out of school and stated trapping animals and collecting skeletons for research institutions, learned to fly, and started a business taking tourists on photographic safaris.

While still in his teens, he joined a former colleague of his parents on a fossil-hunting expedition to Lake Natron on the Kenya-Tanzania border. To his surprise, he enjoyed the venture, but lacking academic credentials, he received little credit for the team’s discoveries.

In 1965, he traveled to England to catch up on his schoolwork, with the intention of resuming his education. When this proved more difficult than expected, he returned to Kenya, where he managed paleontological expeditions and worked for the National Museum of Kenya.

In 1967, he joined a successful expedition to the Omo Valley in Ethiopia. On a flight between Omo and Nairobi, he spotted an expanse of sedimentary rock on the shores of Lake Turkana, formerly known as Lake Rudolf. Leakey suspected the area was rich with fossils.

When a return trip confirmed his hunch, he secured funding from the National Geographic Society to run his own excavation. With a crew of Kenyan fossil hunters who called themselves the Hominid Gang, he uncovered a rich vein of artifacts that startled the world. After years in his family’s shadow, Dr. Richard Leakey had earned a reputation as an outstanding fossil hunter in his own right.

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In 1968, at the age of 25, he won appointment as director of the National Museum of Kenya. As director of the Museum, Dr. Richard Leakey undertook intensive excavation at Lake Turkana. Over the next 30 years, the site yielded more than 200 fossils, including two of the most spectacular finds of all time, a virtually complete Homo habilis skull in 1972 and a Homo erectus skull in 1975.

In 1984, his team found one of the most historic specimens of all, the nearly complete skeleton of a young male Homo erectus. The 1.6-million-year-old skeleton, nicknamed Turkana Boy, is one of the most complete hominid fossil skeletons ever found. Dr. Richard Leakey described this discovery and its significance in the book Origins Reconsidered (1992). In 1985, the site produced the skull of a previously unknown species of extinct hominid, Australopithecus aethiopicus.

In nearly 30 years as director of the National Museum, Dr. Richard Leakey had built the institution into a major international research center. In 1989, he accepted an appointment by Kenya’s president, Daniel Arap Moi, to serve as director of the Kenya Wildlife Service. As director he was called on to rescue the country’s chaotic park system and combat an epidemic of rhinoceros and elephant poaching. The illegal demand for the tusks of these endangered animals was pushing both species to the brink of extinction. Dr. Richard Leakey created well-armed anti-poaching units, and when gentler measures failed, ordered the shooting of poachers.

In 1989, Dr. Richard Leakey staged a dramatic burning of 12 tons of confiscated tusks. The elephant population was soon stabilized and is now growing. Impressed with Dr. Richard Leakey achievement, the World Bank approved substantial grants to the Wildlife Service.

Although Dr. Richard Leakey accomplishments won international recognition, he had made enemies at home. In 1993, his plane suffered an unexplained equipment failure and crashed in the mountains outside Nairobi. The accident cost Leakey both his legs. An expert pilot, he had good reason to suspect sabotage by political enemies. Undeterred, Leakey returned to work, but political opposition forced his resignation in 1994. He recounted the experience in the book Wildlife Wars: My Battle to Save Kenya’s Elephants (2001).

After retiring from government in 2001, Dr. Richard Leakey served as a leading spokesman for Transparency International, a global coalition to fight corruption, and for the Great Apes Survival Project, a United Nations effort to defend mankind’s closest relatives. His books include The Origin of Humankind (1994) and The Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future of Mankind (1995). His wife, Meave Leakey, and his daughter, Louise, carried on the family mission of searching for the evidence of human origins in Africa, while Dr. Richard Leakey continued his work as a highly public advocate for the disabled and for Kenya’s kidney patients.

By 2015, the poaching of wildlife that Dr. Richard Leakey had done so much to stop in the 1990s had returned to crisis levels. President Uhuru Kenytatta asked Dr. Richard Leakey to return to the Kenya Wildlife Service as chairman. At age 70, Richard Leakey took up the challenge, continuing his lifelong service to the environment and to the continent that gave birth to the human race.

Dr. Richard Leakey Illness

In 1969, Dr. Richard Leakey was diagnosed with a terminal kidney disease and told he only had ten years to live. In spite of this diagnosis, he forged ahead with his life.

By the end of the decade, Dr. Richard Leakey kidney disease had grown severe, and he traveled to London to consult a specialist. He received a transplant from his younger brother, Philip, but within a month, rejection set in. The drugs that suppressed the rejection weakened his immune system, and he nearly died from an inflammation of the lungs.

Dr. Richard Leakey survived, recovered, and returned to Kenya. In the eight months he had spent abroad, he wrote an autobiography.

Dr. Richard Leakey political career

Dr. Richard Leakey political career culminated in 1999 When then-president Moi appointed him head of Kenya’s Civil Service and of a so-called “Dream Team” of technocrats assembled from various fields and backgrounds to tackle management, corruption, and reorganization issues within the Kenyan government. He stepped down from this position in 2001, announcing at that time that he was retiring from politics.

Dr. Richard Leakey Books

  • Origins (with Roger Lewin) (Dutton, 1977)
  • People of the Lake: Mankind and its Beginnings (with Roger Lewin) (Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1978)
  • Making of Mankind (Penguin USA, 1981)
  • One Life: An Autobiography (Salem House, 1983)
  • Origins Reconsidered (with Roger Lewin) (Doubleday, 1992)
  • The Origin of Humankind (Perseus Books Group, 1994)
  • The Sixth Extinction (with Roger Lewin) (Bantam Dell Pub Group, 1995)
  • Wildlife Wars: My Fight to Save Africa’s Natural Treasures (with Virginia Morell) (St. Martin’s Press, 2001)

Dr. Richard Leakey Family and Children

Dr. Richard Leakey was married to Margaret Cropper and their daughter Anna was born in 1969, the same year that Leakey and Margaret divorced. Dr. Richard Leakey married his colleague Meave Epps in 1970 and they had two daughters, Louise (born 1972) and Samira (1974).

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Dr. Richard Leakey

Dr. Richard Leakey