Richard Leakey FRS passed away at the age of 77 on the 2nd January 2022. His old friend, Geoffrey Kent, founder, co-chairman and CEO of Abercrombie & Kent looks back at the extraordinary life of the Kenyan paleoanthropologist, conservationist and politician
Richard Leakey’s groundbreaking research contributed to the recognition of Africa as the birthplace of humankind. One of his most celebrated finds came in 1984 when he helped unearth “Turkana Boy”, a 1.6-million-year-old skeleton of a young male Homo erectus. Most recently he commissioned a museum of human history to help bring cultural tourism to Lake Turkana, a World Heritage site.
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He began his second career in 1989 when Kenya’s then president, Daniel arap Moi, appointed him to head what would become the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). It takes a visionary to forge new strategies to protect wildlife – and Richard was nothing if not that. Who else would burn a huge pile of ivory? That became the defining moment in turning the tide in the ivory wars. In the 11 years that followed, the elephant population in Kenya increased from 16,000 to 28,000.
Based on our lifelong friendship, he became a trusted ally for private sector travel companies like Abercrombie & Kent that wanted to support conservation efforts. This kind of public-private partnership was far less common in those days, yet he embraced the idea wholeheartedly, and of course A&K stood ready to make a difference. Together we brainstormed cutting-edge efforts to involve communities through conservation clubs and field tested the translocation of rhinos. We even persuaded HRH Prince Charles to lend his support for these efforts.
Time and time again he cheated death. He fractured his skull as a boy, was bitten by a puff adder, the most-deadly snake in the world, almost died after receiving a kidney transplant, lost both legs in a 1993 plane crash and was treated for skin cancer.
“I was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of the legendary Richard Leakey, paleoanthropologist, conservationist and head of Kenya Wildlife Service for many years, but also my childhood friend and, no doubt, African wildlife’s best friend. From our first meeting at age 6 when we were learning to ride on the South Kinangop to our recent trip together to Kenya just before the pandemic, I enjoyed every moment with him and will truly miss his companionship and wonderful sense of humour,” commented Geoffrey Kent, founder, co-chairman and CEO of Abercrombie & Kent.
Richard Leakey 19 December 1944- 2 January 2022