Dr Richard Leakey
“Ivory must be seen as valuable only if it is on an animal. We will burn ivory and we hope every country on the globe will support Kenya and say never again should we trade ivory.”
– Richard Leakey
Dr Richard Leakey is probably the one person who has done the most for the conservation of the African elephant, turning the escalating extinction of the species to a rise of the African elephant population.
Leakey was a Kenyan paleoanthropologist, conservationist, and political figure, who was responsible for extensive fossil finds related to human evolution and who campaigned publicly for responsible management of the environment in East Africa.
1968–1989 Leakey was director of the National Museums of Kenya and was in 1989 made director of the Wildlife Conservation and Management Department (the precursor to KWS – the Kenya Wildlife Service). Devoted to the preservation of Kenya’s wildlife and sanctuaries, Leakey embarked on a campaign to reduce corruption within the KWS, crack down on ivory poachers, and restore the security of Kenya’s national parks. In doing so he made numerous enemies. In 1993 he survived a plane crash in which he lost both his legs below the knee. It has never been proven that the plane was sabotaged (but Leakey has no doubts).
In Leakey’s war against the ivory poachers, he was ruthless and brilliantly successful. He raised a 100 million pounds overseas and instructed his rangers to start shooting poachers instead of tracking them. 2016, in Nairobi, Kenya, Leakey torched millions of pounds’ worth of stockpiled ivory – the largest ivory burn in history – and lobbied successfully for a world trade ban. For the first time in over a century, African elephant numbers began to rise.