NAIROBI – Richard Leakey, a Kenyan conservationist and paleoanthropologist who led campaigns against the ivory trade to save the dwindling African elephant population, has died, the Kenyan presidency announced on Sunday. He was 77.
For years, Leakey served in various roles in government, including director of the National Museum of Kenya and twice chairman of the board of directors Kenya Wildlife Service.
President Uhuru Kenyatta said Leakey “served our country with honors.”
“In addition to his outstanding career in public service, Dr. Leakey was hailed for his outstanding role in Kenya’s vibrant civil society, where he founded and successfully led a number of institutions. “
Leakey was the son of paleontologists Louis and Mary Leakey, whose work helped start human evolution in Africa. He has been celebrated for his work in saving wildlife from poachers and for campaigning against the ivory trade.
Paula Kahumbu, a conservationist and director of WildlifeDirect, told Reuters that she, like many other young Kenyans, had been cared for by Leakey.
“Very brave, he was a person who stood up for integrity, be it in conservation, whether it was archaeological and paleoanthropological research in museums or politics,” she said.
Leakey also served the Kenyan leader from July 1999 to March 2001, at a time when then-President Daniel Arap Moi was being pressured by donors to tackle corruption and other government inefficiencies.
In 1995 he co-founded the Safina Party.
At the time of his death he was chairman of the Turkana Basin Institute at Stony Brook University in the United States, committed to promoting research and education in paleontology and archeology in northern Kenya.
Leakey was also a fellow of the UK based royal society and honorary member of the African Academy of Sciences.