Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey was a British archaeologist whose work was important in establishing human evolutionary development in Africa. He was born in British East Africa, what is now known as Kenya. He developed an early interest in prehistory, which he combined with his love of the continent.
The paleoanthropological research he and his family did, led to significant advances in our understanding of human origins . And his passion and curiosity about the great apes helped to kick-start the research of three very special women.
I am of course talking about Jane Goodall (chimpanzees), the late Dian Fossey (gorillas in particular mountain gorillas) and Birute Galdikas (orangutans). These young women were hand-picked by Leakey to conduct long-term study in an environment, that in the 1950s, 60’s and 70’s respectively, was only considered suitable for men. They were later dubbed Leakey’s Angels and went on to become the biggest names in Primatology.
Their years of observation and study not only ignited public interest in human evolution, but the understanding of the species closest to us, and the preservation of their environment.
Dian Fossey was tragically murdered in her cabin at the Karisoke Research Center in the Virunga Mountains in 1985. But the work she began, still continues today. There has been much reason for hope in the last few years for mountain gorilla populations as their numbers have increased – the only species to experience this.
I had the great privilege of meeting the two surviving ‘Angels’ together with Ian Redmond – who worked along Dian Fossey before she was murdered – and asked what’s changed since they started their research so many years ago.