Richard Lydekker studied in the natural sciences at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was awarded the degree Bachelor of Arts (BA) in 1871. From 1874 to 1882 he was employed in the Geological Survey of India and published a number of papers on the vertebrate fossils of that subcontinent. He then joined the staff of the British Museum (Natural History) for the rest of his career. Initially he appears to have worked in the museum's Department of Geology, but later moved to the Department of Zoology. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, the Geological Society of London, and the Zoological Society of London. His publications pertain mainly to two scientific fields, palaeontology and mammalogy. His most important publications in the former field were his Catalogue of the fossil Reptilia and Amphibia in the British Museum (Natural History)... (1888-1890), and a catalogue of the museum's fossil birds (1891). Some of his numerous palaeontological papers dealt with fossils from South Africa: "On associated remains of a theriodont reptile from the Karroo system of the Cape" (Proceedings of the Zoological Society, 1889), "Notes on new and other dynosaurian remains. (2) Orinosaurus capensis, n. sp." (Geological Magazine, 1889), "Note on the occurrence of a species of Bothriceps (B. Huxleyi) in the Karroo system of South Africa" (Annals and Magazine of Natural History, 1889), and one that was published in South Africa: "The Tertiary connection of South America with South Africa" (Transactions of the Geological Society of South Africa, 1898, Vol. 3, pp. 151-153).
Lydekker wrote many books on the game animals of various countries and regions, several of which include information on the mammals of southern Africa: Horns and hoofs, or, chapters on hoofed animals (1893), The Royal natural history (editor, 6 vols, 1893-1896), A handbook to the carnivora. Part I. Cats, civets, and mungooses (1896), Mostly mammals: zoological essays (1903), A geographical history of mammals (1908), The game animals of Africa (1908), The horse and its relatives (1912, including South African zebra and quagga species), Animal portraiture (1912), and Wild life of the world: a descriptive survey of the geographical distribution of animals (3 vols, 1915). He furthermore contributed to A. Newton's Dictionary of birds (1893-1896), and to H.N. Hutchinson's The living races of mankind (1901).
He was awarded the Lyell Medal of the Geological Society of London in 1902.