Conservation Influencers

Conservation International

Arlington, Virginia, USA

Conservation International (CI) was founded in 1987. Its driving force was Peter Seligmann, an ecological scientist, who began his career in 1976 at The Nature Conservancy. Today, CI operates in 70 countries, managed by an office network that it finances and staffs in two dozen countries.

According to Seligmann, what differentiates CI from other environmental NGOs is its founding principles: ‘fates of nations and communities lay in the hands of their citizens, not outsiders; the environmental community needs exceptional science; developing nations should not — and would not — place biodiversity conservation over their own economic well-being’. 

Conservation International has secured major financial backers such as the Moore Foundation, Althelia Climate Fund , MacArthur Foundation, the World Bank, and many of the world’s largest companies. Some commentators refer to CI as the ‘multinational conservation corporation’ because they believe it has ‘sold out’ to major corporations. CI is also sometimes criticised for having an ‘ecological’ and ‘anthropocentric’ mindset. But such claims are not supported by the facts. For example, CI regularly persuades top celebrities to do mystical sounding nature first voiceovers. One example being on its brand campaign videos ‘Nature Is Speaking’, featuring Harrison Ford, Robert Redford, Julie Roberts and other big stars.

The accusation that CI puts humanity first also overlooks how when the prohibitionist Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI) was launched in 2014, CI and Stop Ivory, another US-based NGO, took responsibility for managing its secretarial duties. EPI’s current CEO is John Scanlon AO, former Secretary-General of CITES. Moreover, CI’s current CEO Sanjayan Muttulingam is one of EPI’s three serving Trustees. 

Signatories to EPI’s goals and mission are committed to closing domestic ivory markets and preserving the existing moratorium on international trade in ivory; ‘until the point at which African elephant populations are no longer threatened; and range states agree to put all stockpiles of ivory beyond economic use’. EPI opposes trophy hunting and refuses to acknowledge that Southern African countries should be governors of their own wildlife resources, especially when it comes to elephants, rhino and giraffes.

Conservation International proactively promotes the doubling of the area of the world’s oceans that is placed under permanent no-take protection rules. For example, CI created and funded Pacific Oceanscape, in association with 23 Pacific island nations and territories, which manage 10% of the world’s ocean surface. Through such initiatives, CI claims to ‘protect’ (from commercialisation and use for the benefit of humanity) more than 6 million square kilometers (3.75 million square miles) of land and sea. 

Seligman claims that CI invented the concept of debt-for-nature swaps, which began on land and now, at the hands of The Nature Conservancy, embrace marine areas. 


CEO, M. Sanjayan, PhD.  


Peter Seligmann, Chairman of Board. The vice-chair is the actor Harrison Ford.

Chairman of the Executive Committee is Wesley G. Bush, director of General Motors and Cisco, former chairman and CEO of Northrop Grumman. 

Conservation International ’s Leadership Council is chaired by Katie Vogelheim.   


According to form 990, in 2019 CI’s expenses were USD154, 986, 755 and its revenue was USD145, 013, 840.

About the directory

Conservation Influencers is a searchable directory of the animal activist, environmental and ecological lobby. It examines the history, mission, methodology and reputation of NGOs to assess their impact on the global conservation cause.


Wildlife Conservation Society

In 1906, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) put an African man on display in Bronx Zoo’s Monkey House. In 1918, one of WCS’s founding fathers, Madison Grant, published Passing of the Great Race, which Adolf Hitler referred to as his ‘Bible’. Another leading creator and early leader of WCS, Henry Fairfield Osborn Sr, was also a founder of the American Eugenics Society. His son headed WCS from 1940 to 1968, overseeing a series of major initiatives in Africa. There, WCS became one of the architects of the prohibition movement, which put wildlife for consumptive use and vast regions of land out of bounds to humanity. In 2020, WCS distanced itself in public from the racist views of Grant and Henry Fairfield Osborn Sr. But it has yet to issue a critical account of the legacy of Fairfield Osborn Jr, even though he led WCS into the modern era while sharing similar politically-inspired ecological goals to his father and Grant. WCS devotes considerable financial resources to influencing outcomes at CITES. WCS’s CEO reportedly earns USD$1,320,978.