Richard Leakey was born in Kenya in 1944 and was the second son of renowned paleoanthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey. Richard described his family as relatively poor, and they spent their school holidays in the desolate Olduvai region in Tanzania, where his parents worked. if we can identify them, ”Leakey said. “We didn’t have a refrigerator until I was 12 years old.”
Richard didn’t like school and was expelled when he was 16. That was the end of his schooling. He was a safari guide for a short time, learned to pilot small airplanes and did odd jobs before entering the family job.
“I couldn’t go back to school because my parents couldn’t afford it, so I could decided the only thing I knew was bones, ”he said.
He discovered his first fossil, an old pig’s jawbone, when he was only six years old.
In 1967, Leakey, along with French and American scientists, led the Kenya team of the Omo expedition in southern Ethiopia, at which time he was working with his father at the Nairobi Museum, and when he was once flying over the east side of Lake Turkana, he noticed great exposures of sedimentary rocks, which piqued his interest.
A return trip the following year revealed numerous fossils and prehistoric artifacts that raised his suspicions of the region’s rich archaeological potential.
It was the beginning of one decades of research in Turkana Basin. If Richard’s parents were to swing the global pendulum in favor of Africa as the cradle of mankind, he and his paleoanthropologist Meave would provide ample evidence of human ancestry.
In the basin, he made significant finds such as the skull of a 1.9 millionth Year old Homo habilis, a 1.6 million year old Homo erectus, and especially a 1.5 million year old skeleton named Turkana Boy or Nariokotome. It is the most complete prehistoric human skeleton ever found.
Merit of the Discoveries
Although Leakey was attributed to Turkana Boy, the relics were unearthed by Kamoya Kimeu, a longtime member of his Team who discovered many of the fossils. In later years, Leakey sought to correct the record, recognizing the invaluable contribution of Kimeu and other African field specialists.
In 1968, Leakey was appointed director of the National Museum of Kenya (NMK), a position in which he held for 21 years. During his time, the museum developed into a modern research facility, a repository for large collections of extinct mammals and early humans, and a focus for studies in paleoanthropology and archeology.
Emma Mbua, paleoanthropologist and main research center scientist at the NMK, says , Leakey was instrumental in the discovery of early humans.
“The collection is unparalleled anywhere else in the world and has enabled scientists to calculate the evolutionary pathways of Homo sapiens and other mammalian species,” she said.
Dr. Mbua joined the National Museums during Leakey’s tenure when many of the staff were Western expatriates. Fostering local talent and empowering indigenous Africans to become key members of the fieldwork was a major goal of Leakey’s work, which sometimes brought him into conflict with foreign experts who wanted more control.
1989 was Kenya then President Daniel Moi appointed Leakey director of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Department, which later became the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). This was at the height of the elephant poaching crisis.
Leakey launched a vigorous campaign and armed rangers.
Leakey bluntly dismissed KWS employees without fear of dissenting opinions Wildlife mismanagement held responsible, a move that earned him enemies.
He arranged the public cremation of 12 tons of ivory valued at over $ 3 million, an event that garnered worldwide attention and money Conservation attracted. He repeated the ivory burning in 2016 during another poaching crisis when he was chairman of the KWS board of directors.
In 1993, the Cessna he was flying crashed in the Rift Valley, damaging both of his legs and it resulted in a double amputation below the knee. Although never proven, foul play was suspected. Frustrated by his efforts to reform the agency, Leakey resigned from KWS in 1994.
No tolerance for corruption
According to Paula Kahumbu, managing director of WildlifeDirect, a nature conservation NGO founded by Leakey In 2004 Richard had “no tolerance for mediocrity or corruption, which unfortunately many people accused him of”.
In 1995 Leakey turned to politics and founded the political party Safina to oppose Moi’s regime. Ironically, Moi made him head of public service in 1999, ostensibly to fight corruption in the government. However, Leakey resigned only two years later.
He returned to the sciences and founded the Turkana Basin Institute (TBI) in 2005 in collaboration with Stony Brook University in the USA.
TBI is now a leading research institute with two field stations on the east and west banks of Lake Turkana and thousands of specimens of early humans, extinct animals and ancient plants.
Leakeys organization supported the French and Kenyan scientists of the 2011 in old age discovered the Lomekwi stone tools, the oldest man-made tools in the world, from 3.3 million years ago.
For health reasons, Leakey gave up field research in his later years but stayed at TBI and lectured at the Abroad. At the beginning of his career over 50 years ago, Leakey is reported to have said that most of the physical evidence of mankind’s African origins could be on a card table.
“Today we need several rooms to accommodate the thousands of people Fossils collected from eastern and southern Africa alone that have greatly enhanced our understanding of changes over time. ”
While recognizing the limitations of a national museum, he was disappointed that Kenya had its place has lost on the global table of hard science.
“I firmly believe that with the increasing number of young Kenyans studying abroad and here, and if we can get equipment and facilities, we will be back You can get ahead the table pretty quickly. “
There is international buzz for new science, he added,” and we just have to join hands and get our people to have a te il to direct this work. ”
He spoke about the sciences that Kenya can explore in collaboration with foreign support. Using micro-CT imaging technology to examine the inside of skulls, bones, and other fossils; a genetic laboratory to study the human genome, especially today’s Africans; and an astronomical observatory on Lake Turkana for joint space exploration.
Perhaps the greatest idea was a world-class science museum called Ngaren, which means “beginning” in Turkana. It arose out of his desire to present the story of evolution and our common ancestors to a wider public. Richard and Meave planned to donate 200 acres of land in Kona Baridi, on the edge of the Rift Valley.
TBI’s Director of Research and Science Isaiah Nengo wants Leakey’s vision of Kenya to be a major pilgrimage destination People can trace their origins. The museum needs around $ 100 million to start the project. Leakey was a master at getting international donors to fund his ideas. Ngaren should be his swan song.
The “father of paleoanthropology in Kenya” died on January 2nd in his house on the outskirts of Nairobi. He was 77.