Skip to main content

The Montgomery Endowment
Office of the Provost
6004 Parkhurst Hall
Dartmouth College
Hanover, N.H. 03655
(603) 646-4062

Richard Leakey

LeakeyOctober 2001

Richard Leakey is a man of principle and purpose, who has made international headlines for over 30 years. Serving his native country of Kenya as a senior government official, a member of parliament, an opposition political activist, a conservationist, an administrator, a museum director, a scientific researcher, an author and a farmer, Leakey has been both successful and controversial.

The son of the famous Dr. Louis B. and Mary Leakey, he is also the world's best-known paleoanthropologist, credited with some of the most significant fossil discoveries of the 20th century.

Uncompromising in his crusade against government corruption and unwavering in his devotion to his country, Leakey, a lifelong critic of the mismanagement of Kenya's wildlife, was appointed Director of Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) in 1989, where he led the effort to end elephant poaching in Africa. He drew international support for a ban on the trade in ivory and raised $150 million for wildlife conservation. However, his tenure was interrupted when his plane crashed in 1993 claiming both of his legs. The following year, Leakey resigned his post, declaring that government corruption had undermined KWS.

In 1995 Leakey joined forces with a small group of Kenyans to establish Safina, a political party created to unify the opposition in Kenya. Despite constant government-sponsored verbal and physical attacks, Leakey continued to fight against a system he considered oppressive and self-defeating.

In 1998 at the behest of the Kenyan government, Leakey returned to KWS, salvaging it from bankruptcy. The following year, Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi appointed Leakey Head of the Civil Service and Secretary of the Cabinet.

During his service Leakey worked closely on a number of national issues, including Kenya's response to HIV/AIDS, privatization of state owned enterprises and the reduction of poverty. The heart of his work, however, was dedicated to lighting institutionalized corruption in Kenya. Unfortunately, a woefully dishonest Kenyan government would not allow Leakey to continue his work, forcing his resignation in 2001.

Richard Leakey has authored over 100 scientific articles and books, including The Sixth Extinction, Origins, Origins Reconsidered, The Origin of Humankind, and One Life. He has presented several television programs, including the 5-part Making of Mankind and NBC's Earthwatch. His latest book, Wildlife Wars: My Fight to Save Africa's Natural Treasures, continues the story of his life, focusing on his tenure as Director of Kenya Wildlife Services.

A major motion picture inspired by Leakey's life is in development with Columbia Pictures. He has been profiled on 60 Minutes and was included in Time Magazine as one of the Century's 100 Greatest Minds.

Last Updated: 9/16/09