The world-famous Kenyan conservationist and politician Richard Leakey, who dug up evidence to help prove that humanity evolved in Africa, died on Sunday at the age of 77, the country’s president said.
“I have this afternoon … with deep sadness received the sad news of the passing of Dr Richard Erskine Frere Leakey, Kenya’s former head of public service,” said Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in a statement late Sunday.
Leakey, the middle son of the famous paleoanthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey, did not have his own formal archaeological education but led expeditions in the 1970s that made groundbreaking discoveries of early hominid fossils.
His most famous find came in 1984 when he discovered an extraordinary, almost complete Homo erectus skeleton during one of his excavations in 1984, which was nicknamed Turkana Boy.
In 1989, Leakey was hired by then-President Daniel arap Moi to lead the National Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), where he led a powerful campaign to eradicate rampant poaching of ivory.
In 1993, his little Cessna plane crashed in the Rift Valley. He survived but lost both legs.
He also pursued politics, running civil society institutions, and briefly leading Kenya’s public service.
In 2015, despite ill health, he returned to the helm of KWS for a three-year term at the request of Kenyatta.