WCS Appoints New President and CEO

January 23, 2012

Dr. Cristián Samper, Director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, will lead WCS starting August 1, 2012. Dr. Samper follows Dr. Steven E. Sanderson, who retires after a decade of renewing WCS parks, expanding global conservation efforts, and successful financial planning.

The Wildlife Conservation Society announced today that Dr. Cristián Samper, Director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, has been named its President and CEO, effective August 1, 2012. He will serve through July, 2012 at the Smithsonian.

Dr. Samper, a scientist and an international authority on conservation biology and environmental policy, will follow Dr. Steven E. Sanderson who announced his retirement as WCS President and CEO, effective July 2012.

During his tenure, Dr. Sanderson, who has led WCS since 2001, has overseen the expansion of its global conservation programs into more than 65 nations, the renaissance of the Bronx Zoo, the launch of the re-birth of the New York Aquarium, a successful $650 million capital campaign, and the alignment of WCS parks and global programs to create an unmatched force protecting nature and our planet. Under Dr. Sanderson’s leadership, WCS has modernized governance and experienced 10 years of fiscal balance.

“On behalf of the WCS Board of Trustees, I want to welcome Cristián to WCS, which has grown under Steve’s leadership to be the world’s preeminent science-based conservation organization,” said Ward W. Woods, Chair of the WCS Board. “Cristían’s strong background in conservation biology, sound management, and fundraising make him a perfect fit to lead WCS well into the future.

“Since 2003, Cristián has run the largest natural history collection in the world and a museum that welcomes more than 7 million visitors a year. His background fits perfectly with WCS, where one of our most important assets is the power of our four zoos and aquarium combined with our conservation field work around the globe and in all the world’s oceans. Cristián has a solid track record connecting an institution’s science with its visitors.”

Said Dr. Samper: “I welcome this opportunity to work with a New York City cultural organization that has grown during the past 117 years into one of the most effective conservation efforts in the world. It will be an honor to succeed Steve Sanderson and to work with the dedicated and creative individuals in WCS parks and global conservation program. WCS has a unique position to save wildlife and wild places by harnessing the power of its parks and field programs. No other organization has the curatorial, husbandry, education, science, and health talents of the worldwide WCS team.

“I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity to have served the Smithsonian Institution as Director of the National Museum of Natural History. I will bring many of the rich experiences and lessons learned there and throughout my career as a biologist to WCS.”

As Director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, Dr. Samper ran the largest natural history collection in the world, with more than 126 million specimens and artifacts. During his tenure at the Smithsonian, Dr. Samper reinvigorated the research staff by hiring new curators to replace retiring staff; established an endowed fellowship program; built major new collections, storage facilities, and laboratories; and raised more than $150 million to support new long-term exhibitions and programs, including the Encyclopedia of Life and the Sant Ocean Hall.

Dr. Samper served as Acting Secretary of the Smithsonian from March 2007 through June 2008. He worked with the Board of Regents on comprehensive governance review and reform, secured funding from Congress to address the funding needs for facilities, and initiated the planning for the Institution’s first national fundraising campaign.

Prior to working in Washington, D.C., from 2001 to 2003, he was deputy director and staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, the world’s largest research facility for tropical biology. From 1999 to 2001, he served as chairman of the Subsidiary of Scientific, Technical, and Technological Advice of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. In this role, he helped develop a global strategy for plant conservation and launched the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, designed to determine the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being and provide a scientific basis for action to conserve and use ecosystems sustainably. He has served as Vice-Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission and a member of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel of the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

From 1995 to 2001, Dr. Samper was the founding director of the Alexander von Humboldt Institute, the national biodiversity research institute of Colombia. He was responsible for developing the National Biodiversity Policy for Colombia and served as chief science adviser for biodiversity for the Colombian government. He served as director of the environment division of the Foundation for Higher Education in Colombia (1992 to 1995) and was a moving force behind the establishment of a network of private nature reserves and major environmental education programs throughout Colombia. For his contributions, he was awarded the National Medal of the Environment by the president of Colombia in 2001.

Known for his contributions to our understanding of the ecology of the Andean cloud forests, conservation biology and environmental policy, Dr. Samper is currently a member of the boards of the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, American Association of Museums, and the Encyclopedia of Life Executive Committee. He is also a member of Harvard University's Board of Overseers and Biodiversity International's Board of Trustees.

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.


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