NAIROBI, Jan 2 – Renowned paleontologist and conservationist Richard Leakey died on Sunday at the age of 77, Kenya’s president announced. Leakey served as chairman of the East African Wild Life Society from 1984 to 1989, having taken over from Charles Njonjo, who, coincidentally also died on the same day.

“I have this afternoon, Sunday 2nd January 2022, received with deep sorrow the sad news of the passing away of Dr Richard Erskine Frere Leakey, Kenya’s former Head of Public Service,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a statement.

“Dr Leakey, a globally renowned Kenyan paleoanthropologist and conservationist, has over the years served our country with distinction in several public service roles among them as Director of the National Museums of Kenya and Chairman of the Kenya Wildlife Service Board of Directors. “On behalf of the people of Kenya, my family and on my own behalf, I send heartfelt condolences and sympathies to the family, friends and associates of Dr Richard Leakey during this difficult period of mourning.”

The son of noted anthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey, Richard gained global recognition as paleontologist for discovering the 1.6 million-year old skeleton of a homo erectus youth.

In 1989, the Kenyan government, responding to an international outcry over rampant poaching of elephants in Kenya, appointed Leakey the head of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Department. The department was replaced by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in 1990 and Leakey became its first chairman. He created special, well-armed anti-poaching units that were authorised to shoot poachers on sight. The poaching menace was dramatically reduced. Leakey, then president Daniel arap Moi and the WMCD made international headlines when a stockpile of 12 tons of ivory was set ablaze in the Nairobi National Park in 1989 to demonstrate Kenya’s commitment to the fight against the global ivory trade that was decimating African elephants.

In 1993, a small propeller plane Leakey was piloting crashed. Both his legs was crushed and were later amputated. He had since walked on artificial limps.

Richard Leakey wrote about his experiences at the Kenya Wildlife Service in his book Wildlife Wars: My Fight to Save Africa’s Natural Treasures (2001).

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