Richard Leakey, Kenya’s Wildlife Champion, Pressed into Action
Renowned anthropologist speaks out as poaching endangers elephants and rhinos
Richard Leakey, world-renowned anthropologist, activist, and professor and chair of Stony Brook University’s Turkana Basin Institute, is again advocating for the safety of Kenya’s threatened wildlife species.
Leakey, who joined Stony Brook as a visiting professor in 2002, recently called on Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to invoke an emergency response on elephant and rhino poaching, as poachers are killing elephants and rhinos for their tusks in alarming numbers.
“Today, in the year of the 50th anniversary of Kenyan independence, I am asking the president to declare a national disaster. I ask him to invoke emergency measures to crack down on the poachers and to declare elephants and rhinos National Treasures under protection of the state,” Leakey said at a recent press conference with WildlifeDirect, the conservation group he founded in 2004 that is dedicated to changing minds, behavior and laws to ensure Africa’s critical species endure forever.
The group reports that current measures to curb poaching are not enough. Despite WildlifeDirect’s best efforts, along with a new law dictating that convicted poachers and traffickers could be given life sentences and the creation of an elite force in the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Kenya’s elephants and rhinos are being massacred across the nation.
This isn’t the first time Leakey has worked to save Kenya’s wildlife. He founded the KWS in 1989 when there was an upsurge in poaching in Kenya’s parks that threatened to wipe out the elephant and rhino populations. He fashioned KWS into a well-funded group that focused on stopping poachers, and Kenya’s wildlife seemed safe for a time. But after Leakey left KWS, the organization and Kenya were embroiled in political upheaval. WildlifeDirect and Leakey are continuing to press for change to save Kenya’s elephants and rhinos from poachers
Dr. Leakey discusses the poaching issue on Kenyan television show.
Leakey is the chair of the Turkana Basin Institute (TBI), a collaborative, international, multidisciplinary enterprise that seeks to facilitate fieldwork within the Lake Turkana Basin by providing logistical support to researchers. With the establishment of TBI in 2005, research has broadened considerably in scope to include modern studies such as botany, limnology, entomology, alternative energy, linguistics, development studies and healthcare.
Historically, it has been difficult to study or address these projects due to the formidable logistics entailed. TBI provides the physical and human infrastructure to enable scientists to conduct research in this challenging environment in much the same way that creation of Antarctic research stations opened that region to the scientific community at large.
— By Shelley Catalano