Jeff Bezos Honored for Wildlife Conservation Society Benefit at Central Park Zoo
Samper, still at work for WCS for a few more months, presented his future boss as the winner, after a dinner of carrot tartare and halibut.
Bezos is a “truly remarkable champion for the planet” who “really changed the world,” Samper said.
Samper said the gala, which raised more than $2 million, would be his last as CEO. But his relationship with Bezos – worth $147 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index – has already led to a windfall for the Bronx-based conservation organization.
WCS received a $60 million grant from the Bezos Earth Fund late last year for work in the Congo Basin and the Andes-Amazon. And that may just be the start. Bezos has committed $10 billion to his fund, and Samper, who previously worked there as an adviser, will lead a $3 billion “natural solutions” portfolio.
Samper said it was during a trip to Colombia three months ago with Bezos and Lauren Sanchez, vice president of the Earth Fund, that the Amazon founder recruited him.
“We remained silent. We were out there listening, watching this vast expanse of tropical jungle,” Samper said. “We discussed the fact that this park has more species of birds than any species found in North America, and the large amounts of carbon that are stored in these rainforests. And in the end, Jeff turned to me and said, “You know, we have to do everything we can to protect places like this.” And then he had a little note in there, and he said, ‘We want you to come here and help us do this.’
This backdrop made for slightly awkward choreography as Bezos received the annual award, a small piece of etched glass crystal honoring distinguished leadership in conservation.
Bezos rose from his chair, where he was holding hands with Sanchez, who he is dating; so does WCS President Alejandro Santo Domingo, from a billionaire Colombian family. Both crossed a dance floor printed with images of giant water lilies. After a few jumps, Santo Domingo took the prize before handing it to Samper, who handed it to Bezos. They were undecided as to where to pose for photos.
“We didn’t practice that,” Bezos said as he buttoned up his jacket.
Bezos said as a boy on his grandfather’s ranch in South Texas, he tended animals, repaired windmills, helped farm the land and dodged prickly pear.
“It became clear to me then that we should live in harmony with nature,” he said, adding that seeing Earth from space, on a Blue Origin flight, had strengthened his vision.
“We need ingenuity,” Bezos said. “Science will lead the work, and the starting point will be Indigenous communities and groups. WCS is central to these approaches.