Cristián Samper became President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York in August 2012. The 121-year-old organization runs the world’s largest system of urban wildlife parks, including the renowned Bronx Zoo and New York Aquarium. In addition, WCS oversees more than 500 conservation projects in 67 countries around the world and has helped establish and manage more than 150 protected areas covering more than 200 million acres.
Dr Samper was the Chair of Bioversity International from January, 2014, until early November, 2016, when he was succeeded by Julia Marton-Lefèvre.
Dr Samper was the Director of the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC for a decade, where he was responsible for managing the largest natural history collection in the world, overseeing scientific staff that produces more than 500 research publications each year and hosting more than six million visitors annually. He also served as Acting Secretary (CEO) of the Smithsonian Institution in 2007 and 2008.
Prior to joining the Smithsonian in 2001, he was the founder and first director of the Alexander von Humboldt Institute, the national biodiversity research institute of Colombia. He was awarded the National Medal of the Environment by the President of Colombia in 2001. He served as the Chairman of the scientific advisory body of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, and was one of the leaders of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment study published in 2005.
He has published and lectured extensively around the world on topics related to conservation biology and science policy, and is a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences of Colombia, the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Dr Samper served on the Board of Overseers of Harvard University and is on the Board of the Carnegie Institution for Science.
Born in San José, Costa Rica and raised in Colombia, Dr Samper studied biology at the Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá and earned his master's and doctorate degrees in biology from Harvard University, where he was awarded the Derek Bok prize for excellence in teaching.