Statement on the death of Richard Leakey

Date Published


Save the Elephants is saddened by the death of paleoanthropologist and conservation leader Richard Leakey.

Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants, says:

I first met Richard in my first week in the field working with elephants. We were both in our early 20s, and both cared deeply about wildlife. He’d been brought up in an unconventional way by his brilliant father, without much formal schooling. I remember him saying ‘the first time I came to university I came to teach’.

Richard was a fiercely patriotic Kenyan, highly persuasive, and controversial. Together these made a powerful combination. Politically connected and a gifted orator, he rose fast.

Ivory poaching in Kenya had surged during the 1970s and 80s, eroding the reputation of Kenya’s parks, as well as the institutions responsible for looking after them. After a census of Kenya’s biggest wildlife area revealed the scale of the ongoing elephant slaughter and the involvement of rangers, Richard confronted the relevant minister during a press conference. Not long after, President Moi appointed him to lead the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Richard soon saw an opportunity for a characteristically bold statement. When Kenya set fire to a 12-tonne stockpile of ivory, the symbolism was so powerful that it helped turn the tide against ivory poaching and create a respite across the continent that lasted almost two decades.

Kenya and the world have lost a conservation giant in Richard but his legacy lives on. Our thoughts and condolences are with Richard’s family.

For interviews, please contact:

Jane Wynyard
Head of Communications
Save the Elephants
[email protected]
+254 (0) 708669635

About Save the Elephants
Based in Kenya, Save the Elephants works to secure a future for elephants. Specialising in elephant research, they provide scientific insights into elephant behaviour, intelligence, and long-distance movements and apply them to the challenges of elephant survival. Education and outreach programs share these insights with local communities as the true custodians of this rich heritage. The team works towards a future of harmonious coexistence between humans and elephants. High-tech tracking helps plan landscapes while low-tech beehive fences, among other tools, provide farmers with protection as well as income. To battle ivory poaching, Save the Elephants teamed up with the Wildlife Conservation Network created the Elephant Crisis Fund to identify and support the most effective partners in Africa and in nations with ivory markets to stop poaching, thwart traffickers and end demand for ivory.