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A Legendary Paleoanthropologist whose Discoveries Helped Prove that Humanity Evolved in Africa

World-renowned paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey, known for his fossil-finding and conservation work in his native Kenya, has died at 77, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has announced. Leakey, whose groundbreaking discoveries helped prove that humanity evolved in Africa, remained energetic into his 70s despite bouts of skin cancer, kidney and liver disease. Initially, Leakey tried his hand at safari guiding, but things changed when at 23 he won a research grant from the National Geographic Society to dig on the shores of northern Kenya’s Lake Turkana, despite having no formal archaeological training. In the 1970s, he led expeditions that recalibrated the scientific understanding of human evolution with the discovery of the skulls of Homo habilis, 1.9 million years old, in 1972 and Homo erectus, 1.6 million years old, in 1975. As the slaughter of African elephants reached a crescendo in the late 1980s, driven by insatiable demand for ivory, Leakey emerged as one of the world’s leading voices against the then-legal global ivory trade.