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Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Leakey, Richard Erskine Frere (1944 - )
"The whole story is about change. We are very lucky that the earth's history is recorded in fossilized remains. And we can see the changes. Unfortunately, there will always be gaps in our knowledge, but there is no doubt that we and everything living today has evolved."

-- Richard Leakey


Richard Erskine Frere Leakey is a paleontologist, archaeologist and conservationist. He is the second of the three sons of the archaeologists Louis Leakey and Mary Leakey. A high school drop-out, Leakey discovered his love of paleontology when he led an expedition to a fossil site he had discovered while flying. Frustrated by the lack of recognition he received for his accomplishments due to his lack of scientific credentials, Leakey left for England to catch up on his high school education. However, after six months, Leakey returned home to continue his safaris. He never completed his degree.

Paleontology
Leakey started his career following in the footsteps of his famous parents with discoveries of early hominid fossils in East Africa. A Homo habilis skull (ER 1470) and a Homo erectus skull (ER 3733), discovered in 1972 and 1975, respectively, were among the most significant finds of Leakey's earlier expeditions.

Turkana Boy, discovered by Kamoya Kimeu, a member of Leakeys' team in 1984 - was the nearly complete skeleton of a 12-year-old (or possibly 9-year-old) Homo erectus who died 1.6 million years ago. Leakey and Roger Lewin describe the experience of this find and their interpretation of it, in their book Origins Reconsidered (1992). Shortly after the discovery of Turkana Boy, Leakey and his team made the discovery of a skull of a new species, Australopithecus aethiopicus (WT 17000).

Conservation
In 1989 Richard Leakey was appointed the head of the Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) by President Daniel Arap Moi in response to the international outcry over the poaching of elephants and the impact it was having on the wildlife of Kenya. With characteristically bold steps Leakey created special, well-armed anti-poaching units that were authorized to shoot poachers on sight. The poaching menace was dramatically reduced. Impressed by Leakey's transformation of the KWS, the World Bank approved grants worth $140 million.

Richard Leakey, President Arap Moi and the KWS made the international news headlines when a stock pile of 12 tons of ivory was burned in 1989.

Richard Leakey's confrontational approach to the issue of human-wildlife conflict in national parks did not win him friends. His view was that parks were self-contained ecosystems that had to be fenced in and the humans kept out. Leakey's bold and incorruptible nature also offended many local politicians.

In 1993 Richard Leakey lost both his legs when his propeller-driven plane crashed. Sabotage was suspected, but never proved. In a few months Richard Leakey was walking again on artificial limbs. Around this time the Kenyan government announced that a secret probe had found evidence of corruption and mismanagement in the KWS. An annoyed Leakey resigned publically in a press conference in January 1994. He was replaced by David Western as the head of the KWS.

Richard Leakey wrote about his experiences at the KWS in his book Wildlife Wars: My Battle to Save Kenya's Elephants (2001).

Politics
In May 1995 Richard Leakey joined a group of Kenyan intellectuals in launching a new political party - the Safina Party. "If KANU and Mr. Moi will do something about the deterioration of public life, corruption and mismanagement, I'd be happy to fight alongside them. If they won't, I want somebody else to do it," announced Richard Leakey. The Safina party was routinely harassed and even its application to become an official political party was not approved till 1997.

In 1999, Moi had to appoint Richard Leakey as Cabinet Secretary and overall head of the civil service at the insistence of international donor institutions as a pre-condition for the resumption of donor funds. Leakey's second stint in the civil service lasted till 2001 when he was forced to resign again.

The 27 November 2004 edition of the Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation reported that Dr. Leakey is proposing himself and others for jobs in KWS.

Quotations

"Unquestionably mankind is special, and in many ways, too.... There is now a critical need for a deep awareness that, no matter how special we are as an animal, we are still part of the greater balance of nature.... During that relatively brief span evolutionary pressures forged a brain capable of profound understanding of matters animate and inanimate: the fruits of intellectual and technological endeavour in this latter quarter of the 20th century give us just an inkling of what the human mind can achieve. The potential is enormous, almost infinite. We can, if we so choose, do virtually anything."

"I have been raised to believe in freedom of thought and speech. If a minority wishes to accept that position it's their right. What I fear is that this minority may seem to be larger than it truly is. What is strange is that there are still people who believe the world is not a globe."

"I ... believe the study of human history remains important and should not be banned. We should ensure that any archaeological studies are conducted with sensitivity and respect. Reburying relics, in my view, does not help anyone go anywhere."

"The greatest problem we face is the growing number of people living in poverty. The related sense of hopelessness has to be impacting on every part of environmental management."

 
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