World-Renowned Kenyan Paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey Dies at Age 77

World-renowned Kenyan paleoanthropologist and politician Richard Leakey, who discovered evidence that helped prove humankind evolved in Africa, died on Jan. 2 at the age of 77.

“I have this afternoon… received with deep sorrow the sad news of the passing away of Dr. Richard Erskine Frere Leakey,” Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced in a statement.

Wildlife Direct, the conservation organization Leakey founded, described Leakey as “an icon and a national hero.”

“He stood for integrity, hard work, and excellence in all areas — be it his work in paleontology, civil service, politics or wildlife conservation,” the organization said.

Son of renowned paleoanthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey, Richard had no formal archaeological training of his own, but he has made groundbreaking discoveries of early hominid fossils.

Leakey’s most famous find was the 1984 excavation of a nearly complete skeleton of a young male Homo erectus, nicknamed “Turkana Boy” and dating to 1.6 million years ago.

In 1989, former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi tapped Leakey to serve as the chairman of the national Kenya Wildlife Service, where he led a campaign to stop the poaching of elephants and rhinos.

Leakey also served as the head of public service and the director of the National Museums of Kenya.

In 1993, he survived a plane crash in the Rift Valley but lost both of his legs.

Leakey is survived by his wife Meave and his daughters Louise and Samira.


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