Connect logo

Denise Verret and Dr. Cristián Samper Highlight General Sessions

By AZA Staff
min read

Denise Verret and Dr. Cristián Samper highlight a stellar roll of panelists and speakers at the 2020 Virtual Annual Conference covering topics from the Amazon to Black voices and wildlife trafficking to the evolutionary connections between humans and animals. The Annual Conference may be virtual this year, but that hasn’t stopped AZA from lining up some of the most exciting and diverse voices in the field.  

Monday, September 14

Dr. Mark Plotkin

General Session
3:00 - 3:45 EDT


Dr. Mark Plotkin is an ethnobotanist who serves as the president of The Amazon Conservation Team, which partners with indigenous peoples to protect traditional cultures and their rainforest homes. To date, ACT has partnered with over 60 tribes to map and improve management and protection of more than 80 million acres of ancestral rainforests. Plotkin is also the author of numerous books including Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice and The Amazon – What Everyone Needs to Know.

Educated at Harvard, Yale and Tufts, Plotkin is quick to point that his initial education in natural history was at the Audubon Park Zoo in his native New Orleans.

Tuesday, September 15

Denise Verret with a group of giraffe in the background

Photo Credit: ©Jamie Pham

General Session - Black Voices
11:00 AM - 12:00 PM

Denise Verret is the chief executive officer and director of the Los Angeles Zoo in Los Angeles, Calif. Verret has been actively involved in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for 17 years, serving on a variety of committees, including Government Affairs and Diversity.  Denise is a member of the AZA Board of Directors and also serves on the Board of Directors for the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center.

Denise is committed to mentoring, coaching, and giving back to people of color, and in particular women who are on their own leadership journeys.  Denise is passionate about conservation, and is committed to having a greater impact through engagement and racial, social, and environmental justice.

Symone Johnson Barkley, Manager of Education Programs, National Aquarium
Corina Newsome, Community Engagement Manager, Georgia Audubon
Tony Smith, Regional Vice President, SSA Group
Lamar Gore, Refuge Manager, John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge

Dr. B.N. Horowitz

3:00 - 3:45 EDT

Dr. B.N. Horowitz’s research focuses on the natural world for insights into human pathology and developmental challenges. Her New York Times bestseller, Zoobiquity, was a Finalist in the American Association for the Advancement of Science Excellence in Science Books Award, a Smithsonian Top Book of 2012 and a Discover Magazine Best Book of the Year. It has been translated into seven languages and has been chosen as Common Read at universities across the country. The Nobel Assembly selected Zoobiquity’s theme of bio-inspired medicine for its 2019 Nobel Conference. Dr. Natterson-Horowitz opened the conference with her keynote address at the Nobel Forum in Stockholm, Sweden.

Her newly published book, Wildhood, uses evolutionary biology, neuroscience and animal behavior to explore the species-spanning challenges of growing up.

Thursday, September 17

Dr Cristián Samper at the Bronx Zoo/WCS

General Session
Wildlife Trafficking and its Impacts on Animal and Human Health: Where Do We Go From Here?
11:00 AM - 12:00 PM

Dr Cristián Samper is the president and chief executive officer of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). WCS is one of the world’s preeminent science-based conservation organizations with a mission to save wildlife and wild places. WCS manages the largest network of urban wildlife parks including the Bronx Zoo, New York Aquarium, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, and Queens Zoo which host four million visitors each year. WCS has long-term field conservation programs in more than 60 countries and in all of the world’s oceans.

Prior to joining WCS, Dr. Samper served as director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, managing the largest museum collection in the world. He also served as acting secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and deputy director of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. He was the founding director of the Alexander von Humboldt Institute, the national biodiversity research institute for Colombia. For his contributions, Dr. Samper was awarded the National Medal of the Environment and the order of San Carlos by the president of Colombia.

Chelsea Clinton, Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation
John E. Scanlon, Chair of the Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime
Maxi Pia Louis, Director of the Namibian Association of CBNRM Support Organisations
Dr. Johnathon H. Epstein, Vice President for Science and Outreach, EcoHealth Alliance

The General Sessions, including the Honors and Awards, celebrate excellence in the zoo and aquarium community and offer insight into the thinking of leaders from within and outside the community. And, join Bert Castro, president and chief executive officer of the Phoenix Zoo as he becomes the new AZA Chair of the Board on Friday.

Join us for insightful conversations with these special speakers.

Back to All Stories
I Accept

This site uses cookies to offer you a better browsing experience. If you continue using our website, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on this website and you agree to our Privacy Policy.