Famed paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey dead at 77

NAIROBI, Kenya — Paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey, famous for fossil-finding and conservation work in his native Kenya, has died, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced Sunday. He was 77.

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Leakey’s cause of death was not announced, according to The Associated Press.

In a statement, Kenyatta said that Leakey “has served our country with distinction in several public service roles.”

Those roles included being director of the National Museums of Kenya and the Kenya Wildlife Service, according to the AP.

Richard Erskine Frere Leakey was born in Nairobi on Dec. 19, 1944, the second of Louis and Mary Leakey’s three sons, according to The New York Times. His parents were pioneering anthropologists in Kenya and focused their attention on science instead of family life.

“I would never describe it as a close family,” Richard Leakey said a few years ago. Anthropology always took precedence over a conventional family life, he recalled.

Richard Leakey was director of the National Museums of Kenya, Kenyatta said in a statement. He also led the Kenya Wildlife Service, according to the AP.

“We are deeply saddened to learn about the news of the death of our founder,” the conservation group WildlifeDirect said in a statement. Leakey founded the group in 2004, according to Britannica.

Leakey had “a natural sense of leadership, old-fashioned but straightforward,” WildlifeDirect CEO Paul Kahumbu said in a statement. “His memory was super sharp and his ability to hold many ideas in the air at once to find common threads was phenomenal. He will be dearly missed.”

Richard Leakey headed a team of scientists that found hundreds of bones of ancestral forms of humans and pre‐humans along the eastern shore of Kenya’s Lake Turkana, the Times reported.

His most famous discovery, found in 1972, remains known as 1470, the large‐brained skull named for its catalog number.

“On behalf of the people of Kenya, my family and on my own behalf, I send heartfelt condolences and sympathies to the family, friends and associates of Dr. Richard Leakey during this difficult period of mourning,” Kenyatta said in his statement.