Richard Erskine Frere Leakey, second son of Louis and Mary, was born on December 19, 1944. He participated in his parent’s field expeditions from an early age and was therefore well-placed to inherit their legacy. His efforts with paleoanthropology involved not only field research and discoveries but also many years serving as the director of the National Museums of Kenya (NMK). Work at Koobi Fora began after a chance landing in the area led Richard to believe that the area held a wealth of fossil deposits. Together with a team from the NMK, Richard led the first expedition to Koobi Fora in 1968. Between 1968 and 1989 he coordinated the NMK field expeditions to the eastern and western shores of Lake Turkana. With the team of talented and experienced fossil hunters led by Mr. Kamoya Kimeu, many important finds were made, including early stone age tools dating to around 1.9 million years old, evidence of early members of the genus Homo, including skulls of Homo habilis and Homo erectus, and remains of robust australopithecines A. boisei and A.aethiopicus. The extraordinary discovery of the nearly complete 1.6 million year old skeleton of the “Nariokotome Boy” (or “Turkana Boy”), a Homo erectus youth, was undoubtedly the most important.
After Dr. Leakey was appointed the head of the Kenya Wildlife Services KWS in 1989, he was no longer able to continue with fieldwork, though he remains interested in paleoanthropology. As head of the KWS, Richard successfully combated elephant and rhino poaching and oversaw a reorganization of Kenya’s troubled national park system. In 1993, he lost both legs below the knee when the plane he was flying crashed. The following year, political opposition caused him to leave the KWS and he became more involved in Kenyan politics, serving as Secretary General of Kenyan opposition party Safina. In December 1997, he was elected to an opposition seat in the Kenyan parliament.
Dr. Leakey’s political career culminated in 1999 When then-president Moi appointed him head of Kenya’s Civil Service and of a so-called “Dream Team” of technocrats assembled from various fields and backgrounds to tackle management, corruption, and reorganization issues within the Kenyan government. He stepped down from this position in 2001, announcing at that time that he was retiring from politics.
Although subjected to political impasses, intimidation and physical violence, he continues to fight for political justice in Kenya. Dr. Richard Leakey continues to lecture on environmental themes and is currently involved in grassroots wildlife conservation projects. In his spare time he enjoys growing grapes and producing wine on his farm near Nairobi.