World-renowned Kenyan conservationist and fossil hunter Richard Leakey, whose groundbreaking discoveries helped show that humankind developed in Africa, died on Sunday on the age of 77, the nation’s president mentioned.
The legendary paleoanthropologist remained energetic into his 70s regardless of bouts of pores and skin most cancers, kidney and liver illness.
“I have this afternoon… received with deep sorrow the sad news of the passing away of Dr. Richard Erskine Frere Leakey,” President Uhuru Kenyatta mentioned in a press release late Sunday.
Born on 19 December, 1944, Leakey was destined for palaeoanthropology—the research of the human fossil report—as the center son of Louis and Mary Leakey, maybe the world’s most well-known discoverers of ancestral hominids.
Initially, Leakey tried his hand at safari guiding, however issues modified when at 23 he received a analysis grant from the National Geographic Society to dig on the shores of northern Kenya’s Lake Turkana, regardless of having no formal archaeological coaching.
In the Seventies he led expeditions that recalibrated scientific understanding of human evolution with the invention of the skulls of Homo habilis (1.9 million years outdated) in 1972 and Homo erectus (1.6 million years outdated) in 1975.
A TIME journal cowl adopted of Leakey posing with a Homo habilis mock-up beneath the headline “How Man Became Man”. Then in 1981, his fame grew additional when he fronted “The Making of Mankind”, a seven-part BBC tv sequence.
Yet probably the most well-known fossil discover was but to return: the uncovering of a unprecedented, near-complete Homo erectus skeleton throughout one among his digs in 1984, which was nicknamed Turkana Boy.
Battling ivory poachers
As the slaughter of African elephants reached a crescendo within the late Eighties, pushed by insatiable demand for ivory, Leakey emerged as one of many world’s main voices towards the then authorized world ivory commerce.
President Daniel arap Moi in 1989 appointed Leakey to guide the nationwide wildlife company—quickly to be named the Kenya Wildlife Service, or KWS.
That yr he pioneered a spectacular publicity stunt by burning a pyre of ivory, setting fireplace to 12 tonnes of tusks to make the purpose that they don’t have any worth as soon as faraway from elephants.
He additionally held his nerve, with out apology, when implementing a shoot-to-kill order towards armed poachers.
In 1993, his small Cessna airplane crashed within the Rift Valley the place he had made his identify. He survived however misplaced each legs.
“There were regular threats to me at the time and I lived with armed guards. But I made the decision not to be a dramatist and say: ‘They tried to kill me.’ I chose to get on with life,” he advised the Financial Times.
Leakey was pressured out of KWS a yr later and commenced a 3rd profession as a distinguished opposition politician, becoming a member of the refrain of voices towards Moi’s corrupt regime.
His political profession met with much less success, nonetheless, and in 1998 he was again within the fold, appointed by Moi to move Kenya’s civil service, placing him in control of combating official corruption.
The process proved inconceivable, nonetheless, and he resigned after simply two years.
In 2015, as one other elephant poaching disaster gripped Africa, President Kenyatta requested Leakey to once more take the helm at KWS, this time as chairman of the board, a place he would maintain for 3 years.
Deputy President William Ruto mentioned Leakey “fought bravely for a better country” and impressed Kenyans along with his zeal for public service.
Softly-spoken and seemingly devoid of private vainness, Leakey stubbornly refused to offer in to well being woes.
“Richard was a very good friend and a true loyal Kenyan. May he Rest In Peace,” Paula Kahumbu, the top of Wildlife Direct, a conservation group based by Leakey, posted on Twitter.
© 2022 AFP
Richard Leakey, fossil hunter and defender of elephants, dies aged 77 (2022, January 3)
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