Former Director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, Cristián Samper is a tropical biologist and an international authority on conservation biology and environmental policy.
Cristián Samper began his tenure as President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society on August, 2012. He joined WCS after serving for a decade as Director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, the world's largest natural history collection.
At WCS, Dr. Samper leads the preeminent conservation organization with field programs in 65 nations and in all the world's oceans; he also oversees the New York Aquarium, the Bronx Zoo, the Central Park Zoo, the Prospect Park Zoo, and the Queens Zoo, which welcome more than 4 million visitors annually.
As Director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, he ran a natural history collection with more than 126 million specimens and artifacts, attracting 7 million visitors a year. During his tenure at the Smithsonian, he renovated the exhibitions, reinvigorated the research staff, established an endowed fellowship program, and raised more than $300 million to support new long-term exhibitions and programs, including the Encyclopedia of Life.
He served as Acting Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in 2007 and 2008, overseeing the National Zoo and museums in science, history, art, and culture. He worked with the institution's board of regents on a comprehensive governance review and reform, secured funding to address the financial needs for facilities, and initiated the planning for the institution's first national fundraising campaign.
From 2001 to 2003 he served as 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 to develop a global strategy for plant conservation and launched the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment to determine the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being.
From 1995 to 2001 he served as Founding Director of the Alexander von Humboldt Institute, Colombia's national biodiversity research organization. He also served as Director of the Environment Division of Colombia's Foundation for Higher Education and was a moving force behind the establishment of a network of private nature reserves and major environmental education programs throughout the country.
Dr. Samper is a member of the boards of the Carnegie Institution for Science, Bioversity International, and Harvard University's board of overseers. He previously served as Vice-chair of the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, member of the scientific advisory panel of the Global Environment Facility, and on the boards of the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and the American Association of Museums.
Cristián Samper holds a B.A from the Universidad de los Andes (Colombia), a master's degree and a Ph.D in Biology from Harvard University, where he was awarded the Derek Bok Prize for excellence in teaching. In 2001 he was awarded the National Medal of the Environment by the President of Colombia.