Renowned paleoanthropologist and conservationist Richard E. Leakey, a professor in the Department of Anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences, and chair of the Turkana Basin Institute (TBI), was recently inducted as an honorary fellow into the African Academy of Sciences (AAS).
Leakey has devoted the majority of his life to research on human origins, conservation of wildlife and public service. Soon after Kenya’s independence, Leakey was appointed as the first director of Kenya’s National Museums. In 1989 he became director of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Department, which became known as the Kenya Wildlife Service. As first chairman of Kenya Wildlife Service, he reorganized the country’s national park systems and dramatically reduced poaching levels. Leakey later served as a member of Parliament in Kenya and then head of the Public Service and secretary to the Cabinet.
Leakey partnered with Stony Brook University in 2005 to create TBI, a collaborative, international, multi-disciplinary organization that facilitates scientific research in the Turkana Basin region of northern Kenya. At TBI, he inspires students to become the next generation of earth and natural sciences while supporting further research in the region.
Initially gaining worldwide fame for the discovery of a complete skull of early Homo, Leakey was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1977. His discoveries in northern Kenya continued and in 1984 Leakey and his colleagues recovered the nearly complete 1.6-million-year-old skeleton of a Homo erectus youth — a groundbreaking contribution to the study of evolutionary biology. While serving as chairman and director of Kenya Wildlife Service, Leakey made international headlines in 1989 after leading the initiative to burn Kenya’s stockpile of 12 tons of ivory, worth an estimated $3 million dollars, making a profound statement against the ivory trade.
One of the core mandates of the AAS is to recognize excellence by electing scholars who have excelled in their fields of expertise as its members. The AAS Fellowship includes individuals who have reached the highest level of excellence in their field of expertise and have made contributions to the advancement of the field on the African continent. Fellows of the AAS are elected based on achievements that include their publication record, innovations, leadership roles and contribution to society. Election into the AAS Fellowship is done through a rigorous review process.