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Richard Leakey spent years trying to save Africa's animals. Now he's trying to save a nation. Leakey began his career following in the footsteps of his famous parents, Mary and Louis, and becoming a renowned paleoanthropologist and head of Kenya's National Museums. In 1989, Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi put Leakey in charge of the Kenyan Wildlife Service. Ivory poachers were killing hundreds of elephants annually and the organisation was close to collapse. Leakey sacked corrupt rangers and brought in millions of dollars from international donors to help enforce a ban on the ivory trade. But when Moi accused the service of corruption, Leakey quit, later forming an opposition party. He clashed with Moi but in July 1999, Moi appointed him head of Kenya's civil service and secretary to the Cabinet. He is now charged with ridding the government of corruption and jumpstarting the economy.Leakey's clashes with poachers and the dictator Moi will provide a dramatic focus for the book. He will also detail the challenge he faced when he lost both his legs in a plane crash that many believe to have been caused by sabotage. He has had over 30 operations to allow him to walk again.
In conservation and wildlife preservation, paleontology and East African politics, few have mattered more than Leakey (The Sixth Extinction), who emerged as an expert on early humans, building on his famous parents' discoveries as he explained in the 1983 memoir, One Life. This second memoir describes his high-stakes second career. In 1989, Leakey became the head of Kenya's Wildlife Department, which put him in charge of saving elephants from the poaching that risked their extinction. Leakey and Morell explain, with speed and cogency, the murderous business of poaching and the difficulties of the Wildlife Department in 1989 perhaps "the most corrupt organization" in Kenya; "everyone thought the poachers were invincible" in fighting it. Leakey arranged a bonfire of seized ivory, a public relations triumph. He also issued semi-automatic weapons to park rangers. Gangs retaliated, in part, by killing George Adamson, of Born Free fame; public reaction helped Leakey and allies achieve an international ban on the ivory trade. Leakey later found his work and his life in peril, and a 1993 plane crash cost him his legs. Leakey and Morell (who has also penned a book about the Leakeys, Ancestral Passions) tell a brisk and vividly personal story. Though longer on laws and press conferences than on elephants, the memoir will fascinate anyone interested in conservation or East African politics. The detailed narrative stops in 1994, when Leakey first left his Wildlife job; subsequent events including Leakey's ascent to Parliament as an opposition candidate occupy just a few pages. Readers will await those stories eagerly, while holding out hopes for Kenya and its pachyderms.