Former Curator of Mammals

Zoologist Dr. Kristofer Helgen holding a specimen of the Greater Monkey-Faced Bat, with others in a open collections drawer.
Dr. Kristofer Helgen with specimens of the Greater Monkey-Faced Bat in the collections of the National Museum of Natural History. Smithsonian image.

Dr. Kristofer Helgen is a professor at the University of Adelaide, Australia, formerly a research zoologist and Curator of Mammals at the National Museum of Natural History. He is known for his discoveries of new mammals, more than 100 to date. In 2013, his discovery of the “olinguito,” the first new species of carnivore found in the Western Hemisphere in 35 years, pitched him into the news. Kris has been fascinated with animal diversity since he was young. As a boy in Minnesota, he delighted in reading about and watching animals. His interest in zoology took him to Harvard University, where he earned his B.A. working with the mammal collections. He went on to a Ph.D. at the University of Adelaide studying Australian mammals.

Kris came to the Smithsonian in 2006, first as a postdoc, then he was hired as a zoologist and later became Curator-in-Charge of the Division of Mammals. Kris uses museum collections, coupled with expeditions to the field, to study mammals and detect new species. His specimen-based investigations of taxonomy and phylogenetics are complemented by research on historical geographic distributions and ecology of mammals. While his field research has taken him to more than 60 countries, he specializes in the Australo-Papuan and Indo-Malayan regions. His findings provide valuable information for the management and conservation of mammals.