Kenyan paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey explains his fight to stop the poaching of wild animals, beginning with elephants and rhinoceroses. His main enemy? Corruption.
On 30 April 2016, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta set fire to all the ivory confiscated by his country from the poachers. An impressive brazier: 105 tons of ivory resulting from the massacre of more than 6,000 elephants and 1.3 tons of horns from that of more than 300 rhinoceros. And a strong symbolic act to denounce a major scandal: inexorably Africa loses its elephants, rhinoceros and other emblematic animals. No less than 62% of elephants have disappeared in ten years, lions have lost 43% of their numbers in twenty years, there are now only 29 000 rhinos, compared to 70 000 in the years 1970, and 80,000 giraffes, against 140,000 at the same time … In order to stop this hecatomb, in April 2015, President Kenyatta handed over Richard Leakey to the head of the Kenya Wildlife Authority Service, or kws), whose paleontologist had resigned in 1994 after five years in office, citing the corruption that prevailed among government officials at the time. Richard Leakey, 72, tells us about Kenya’s concerns and efforts to protect its natural heritage.
The Leakey family includes famous paleontologists. How did this legacy lead you to the protection of animals?
Richard Leakey: I have studied a number of fossil species that have disappeared because of a change in climate or human action. Today, when in the beautiful Kenyan savannah, I contemplate the surviving species – different from those of the past – I feel at home and I understand better my place in the great continuum of life. Paleontology, that is, the study of past wildlife, is not disconnected from my worries about the wildlife of today: it contributes to it.
Placed at the head of the KWS in 1989, you riotted against corruption and armed your guards to fight the ivory hunters who poached in Kenya.
R. L.: We also had to influence the market. I thought it would be a good idea to destroy large quantities of ivory by great „bonfires“ in order to make the world understand that elephants are being killed for their defenses. This led us to the cites …