The Duke of Cambridge, 39, penned a heartfelt tribute to the Kenyan conservationist describing him as both “inspirational and courageous”. The message, sent from the Kensington Royal Twitter account, was signed off with William’s initial.
Prince William tweeted: “I was very sad to hear of Richard Leakey’s death.
“He was an inspirational & courageous conservationist and I was privileged to meet him.
“He transformed the Kenyan Wildlife Service & valiantly spearheaded efforts to stop elephant poaching.
“Conservation has lost a true visionary. W”
Posting on Twitter, the Leakey Foundation also wrote of its “deep sadness” at his death.
The statement adds: “He was a visionary whose great contributions to human origins and wildlife conservation will never be forgotten.”
Richard Leakey led expeditions that helped shed new light on the scientific understanding of human evolution and he was credited with the find of the oldest near-complete human skeleton in 1984.
Nicknamed Turkana Boy, it dated from approximately 1.5m years ago and is the most complete fossil skeleton of a human ancestor ever found.
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In an interview with Scientific American, dating from 2016, Mr Leakey described it as a means to “impact the market”.
He added: “My idea was to destroy confiscated ivory by bonfire.
“That generated massive publicity around the fact that elephants were being killed for their teeth, which led to CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) putting an international ban on ivory sales.
“The ban had a big impact. The number of elephants being killed in Kenya went down from thousands a year to maybe 100 by the end of 1990, and it remained at that low level for at least a decade.”
In 2017, Tusk Trust – a UK-based conservation charity whose royal patron is Prince William – honoured Richard Leakey with a lifetime award for his contribution towards wildlife conservation.
A statement released by the charity at the time said Dr Leakey would be recognised for his efforts that reduced poaching in wildlife sanctuaries across Kenya during his tenure as the chairman of KWS.
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