scorecardresearch
Follow Us:
Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Richard Leakey was a groundbreaking paleoanthropologist, whose life and work were marked by pugnacity, tenacity

In his 77 years, the Kenyan paleoanthropologist and conservationist, who died this week, had been a groundbreaking fossil expert, bestselling author and television personality, pioneering conservationist, as well as a prominent political figure.

By: Editorial |
Updated: January 4, 2022 9:04:25 am
Born to Louis and Mary Leakey, whose discoveries in East Africa’s Olduvai Gorge drew popular attention to the then-burgeoning field of paleoanthropology, the younger Richard Leakey initially worked as a safari guide.

To anyone who followed Richard Leakey’s action-packed life, the frequent comparisons to Indiana Jones made by profile-writers and others who encountered him, do not surprise. Leakey didn’t carry the swashbuckling fictional archaeologist’s bullwhip, but that was where the difference ended. In his 77 years, the Kenyan paleoanthropologist and conservationist, who died this week, had been a groundbreaking fossil expert, bestselling author and television personality, pioneering conservationist, as well as a prominent political figure in his home country, campaigning against corruption, founding a party and heading the civil service.

Born to Louis and Mary Leakey, whose discoveries in East Africa’s Olduvai Gorge drew popular attention to the then-burgeoning field of paleoanthropology, the younger Leakey initially worked as a safari guide. In the 1970s, a grant to dig in Kenya’s Lake Turkana region changed the course of his life. His work, including the 1984 unearthing of the Homo erectus skeleton nicknamed “Turkana Boy”, helped prove that humanity evolved in Africa. When he quit the field in the late 1980s, it was to return to his first love, wildlife. He headed Kenya’s Wildlife Service where he made a name as a ruthless pursuer of poachers, ordering his men to shoot at sight and organising public burnings of seized ivory.

Leakey was, above all, a survivor and fighter. In recent years, he had battled skin cancer, as well as kidney and liver disease. He made many enemies while fighting the ivory trade, as well as in politics, which he entered in the1990s. Leakey’s pugnacity was not diluted even after he lost both legs in 1993, when the Cessna he was piloting crashed. It was widely believed that this — like the beating at the hands of hired thugs that he was to endure later — was orchestrated by enemies but Leakey himself refused to indulge the rumours, saying, “I made the decision not to be a dramatist and say: ‘They tried to kill me.’ I chose to get on with life.”

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on January 4, 2022 under the title ‘Indomitable fighter’.

📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines

For all the latest Opinion News, download Indian Express App.

  • Newsguard
  • The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.
  • Newsguard
0 Comment(s) *
* The moderation of comments is automated and not cleared manually by indianexpress.com.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement