Dr. Cristián Samper will step down as President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society later this year. He will become the Managing Director and Leader of Nature Solutions at the Bezos Earth Fund, leading a $3 billion nature solutions portfolio to protect and restore nature and transform food systems to help combat climate change as part of Jeff Bezos’ $10 billion personal commitment to driving climate and nature solutions.

“It has been a great honor to serve as President and CEO of WCS for the past ten years,” said Samper. “I am proud of what we have accomplished working with the Board of Trustees and all my colleagues in our zoos, aquarium and in our country programs across the world. I am inspired by their passion, talent and commitment to our mission to save wildlife and wild places. The next decade will be critical for the world, and our work has never been more urgent and relevant. Our WCS 2030 Strategy sets out a clear roadmap and priorities, and it positions WCS well to help tackle the interconnected challenges of biodiversity loss, climate change and health.”

The WCS Board of Trustees has started a search for a new President and CEO. Samper will remain at WCS until the fall when his successor is expected to be appointed.

Said Alejandro Santo Domingo, WCS Chair, “Dr. Samper has led WCS for the past ten years, building a strong team to lead on conservation efforts in New York and across the world. He is a proven scientist, conservationist, policy expert and leader who leaves WCS stronger and strategically positioned to advance our mission. I know I speak for our entire WCS Board of Trustees and the WCS team that it has been an honor to serve with him.”

Since 2012, Samper has overseen the world’s largest collection of urban parks—including the Bronx Zoo, New York Aquarium, Central Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, and Prospect Park Zoo—hosting more than 4 million visitors a year; and a global conservation program in nearly 60 nations and across all the world’s oceans. He led the rebuilding of the New York Aquarium following its destruction by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, including a new exhibit, Ocean Wonders: Sharks!, which features the science and conservation work in the nearby Hudson River Canyon. In 2013, WCS took the lead in bringing together African elephant range states, conservation NGOs, government leaders, and the Clinton Global Initiative for a multi-year commitment to stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand for elephant ivory. During his tenure, WCS launched a global fund to support marine protected areas, expanded our work to help protect some of the most important wildlife and wild places, and built the leading program to counter illegal wildlife trade.

On the policy front, Samper is a leader in promoting the concept of 30x30, working to ensure the conservation and preservation of at least 30 percent of the planet by 2030 while respecting the rights and needs of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities. Under this leadership, WCS further has led global efforts addressing wildlife trafficking, promoting nature-based solutions to the climate crisis, and promoted the One Health approach to prevent future zoonotic pandemics.

Samper leaves WCS after developing the WCS 2030 strategy, which includes bold initiatives to build a global network of Nature’s Strongholds to save the most important places for biodiversity; the protection of intact forests to help solve the climate crisis; a One Health initiative to promote the link between wildlife and human health, with the goal of preventing future pandemics; a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy to empower all WCS staff and partners; and an initiative to position the Bronx Zoo as a gateway for conservation and education, while expanding the use of digital tools to connect a global audience to wildlife. Samper is a champion of the role of zoological parks in educating the public and inspiring them to protect wildlife and wild places.

Previous to WCS, Samper was the Director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, the world’s largest natural history collection, from 2003 to 2012; and also served as acting Secretary of the Smithsonian from 2007 to 2008, the first Latin American to hold the position. He has served as the Principal Advisor for Nature at the Bezos Earth Fund since 2021 where he helped design and launch the Protecting Our Planet Challenge, a coalition of foundations pledging $5 billion to support the protection of 30% of the planet by 2030.