3 months ago

Lori Perkins: From Disney to deputy director of the Birmingham Zoo

Inside Lori Perkins’s office at the Birmingham Zoo are figures and photos of orangutans, her favorite primate, the ones she has studied most in her nearly 30 years of zoological experience.

In November, Perkins assumed the role of deputy director at the Birmingham Zoo, where she will oversee the animal collections, veterinary, nutrition, and education teams, as well as monitor zoo operations, services and maintenance.

“I’m still adjusting and getting to know everyone,” she said. “I’m excited about how broad it is. … I came up through the animal side of things, but I’ve always worked alongside the people running operations, running the rides, the maintenance guys. … I’m excited to have that team together in one unit.”

Throughout her career, Perkins has worked with zoos in cities across the nation, including Atlanta, Ga., Chicago, Ill., and New York City, N.Y. She also served as education and science director for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Animal Kingdom.

When speaking of the Birmingham Zoo, she believes it is a gem that may not get the recognition it deserves in the broader zoo community: “I’m really excited to try to help make that name better known.”

Perkins is one of few African-Americans in the zoo industry.

“Historically, there have not been very many people of color. When I first started in the zoo profession, there were almost all men and hardly any people of color. Now it seems like there are almost all women just in my years in this business. It’s very exciting to see,” she said, adding that the zoo community embraces diversity.

“Maybe it’s because we value biodiversity. We come from that background where we recognize the value of diversity in the animal kingdom. We’re pretty open-minded and value diversity here.”

Animal Lover

Growing up in Boston, Mass., Perkins was not a stranger to dealing with animals.

“My dad was a big animal lover, so we had dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, and everything all over the place all the time,” she said. “I think my dad kind of sparked my love for animals, although I never thought of zoos as a career. Even though my whole career has been spent in zoos, it wasn’t what I had been planning. We grew up loving animals and having them a part of our world and our family.”

Perkins’s love of animals grew even more while she was studying psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“It was experimental psychology, so I focused on animal behavior psychology, not analyzing people,” she said. “I thought I would end up doing rat lab research [for a career] because that’s what I did in school: study rats in a Skinner box,” a laboratory apparatus used to study animal behavior.
Her career choice changed when she found out there was a small colony of monkeys at school used for behavioral studies.

“I joined that lab and started studying [monkeys], then I was really, really hooked,” she said. “I decided that I wanted to continue studying primates and their social behavior. I wanted to study apes, but this was a colony of monkeys. I wanted to study gorillas, chimpanzees or orangutans.”

Zoo Atlanta

At that time, in the mid-1980s, the only apes available for that kind of lab study were in Georgia, so that’s where Perkins applied for graduate school. She was accepted at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), where she studied under well-known animal-behavior psychologist, Terry Maple. This led to her first stint at a zoo.

Shortly after Perkins arrived in Atlanta, the Zoo Atlanta was named one of the 10 worst zoos in America. Then-Mayor Andrew Young called on Maple to correct the problems, and Maple brought Perkins along to handle animal records.

“That’s when I finally discovered zoos as a career,” Perkins said. “I started off as a registrar, [handling] … permits and shipping and that sort of thing. That avenue turned out to be the one I was going to stick with. I was in love with it the moment I found out about zoos. I was like, ‘OK, this is home. This is where I need to be.’”

As a graduate student, Perkins had to complete a research project where she started studying gorillas, but she was more intrigued by orangutans.

“I started noticing the orangutans at the other end of the building and thought they were pretty cool,” she said. “In fact, Oliver, [a 37-year-old male Sumatran orangutan who lives at the Birmingham Zoo], was the first orangutan outside of Atlanta that I ever studied.”

As part of her master’s thesis, Perkins was allowed to travel to the Birmingham Zoo to study Oliver, one of the oldest orangutans within the U.S. population. By the way, Oliver is still in Birmingham. In 2017, he received the first ever cardiac monitor implant in orangutans.

Bronx Zoo

After earning her master’s degree from Georgia Tech, Perkins continued to work at Zoo Atlanta until she got an offer to work at New York City’s famed Bronx Zoo.

“They were looking for a registrar,” she said. “I thought, ‘How cool is it that I get to work at the Bronx Zoo?’ It was a tremendous experience to be able to move to a zoo with that size and that history. I really learned a lot during my time there.”

Perkins enjoyed working at the Bronx Zoo, but she didn’t enjoy living in the Bronx. She returned to Georgia after a year to work with Maple again at Zoo Atlanta, where she worked in several different areas, assuming positions in research and conservation, as well as conservation technology, which involved building a new education center for Georgia.

“One of my projects [as the director of conservation technology] was to manage the distance-learning program and the education center,” she said.

Lincoln Park Zoo

Though her work in conservation technology was rewarding, Perkins said she felt disconnected from the animal side. Then she learned that Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo was looking for a curator of primates.

“I was at the Lincoln Park Zoo when they were designing and building what I still believe to be the premiere ape facility in North America, the Regenstein Science Center for African Apes,” she said. “In Chicago it’s very cold during the wintertime, so it had to be a largely indoor facility.”

Perkins helped with the design of the building and worked with architects and planners.

“Every day, we were on site with the construction guys. [We’d tell them], ‘Oh, I want this tree limb to go this way, not that way, and it needs to be made of this and this.’ I got to see that project right through to the end. It was really, really fun.”

Though she enjoyed working in Chicago, Perkins realized that, even though she is originally from Boston, she had been converted to a Southerner. She again returned to Zoo Atlanta, where she handled collection management, guiding the entire animal population, not just the primates—and she moved up the ranks.

“I rose up to the vice president level, [which] was wonderful because I got to lead a team of animal-care staff, the conservation programs, science programs and ultimately the education programs,” she said. “I got to be the leader of the mission side of the business, and that [can be fun because you get] to do all the really cool things zoos are intended to do.”

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Her next stop was Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which was coming up on its 20th anniversary in 2018 and was seeking someone to fill the education and science director position.

Disney is a unique environment, Perkins said: “It’s very different from the traditional zoo experience. I was at the Animal Kingdom, but my job was to work with education strategy and welfare science for the entire company internationally.

“The very coolest part—and I’ll never be able to match this anywhere—[was that I oversaw] the animals-in-film-and-TV team, so any Disney production from the

TV shows to any of the films, including animated films, Disney Jr., anything that involved animals, went through our team,” she said. “Even in an animated feature, Disney feels very strongly about presenting animals in the right light.”

Perkins gave an example. “Hyenas are always vilified and are always the bad guy. In the original ‘Lion King,’ they were the bad guys. What we were able to do was have them in the Disney Jr. ‘Lion Guard’ TV show, [in which] the hyena was the hero to show some actual qualities of hyenas and their value to the ecosystem and make people like hyenas, as well.

“I had so much fun doing this part of the job. I got to go be on set at various productions, read scripts in advance. You sign a lot of nondisclosure acts, but it was really fun because where else are you going to have that experience other than a place like Disney? That was really fun and valuable and expanded my experience and exposure to the influence that animals can have on society.”

Perkins missed working at a traditional zoo, though, and jumped at the chance to become the Birmingham Zoo’s deputy director.

“There is a lot of growth and potential here in Birmingham,” she said. “It’s exciting to me to be one of the drivers of that, not so much getting in on the ground floor but on the second floor. I’m really excited to work with Chris [Pfefferkorn, Birmingham Zoo president and CEO], and the rest of the team to see where we can go.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

13 mins ago

7 Things: Marsh out of U.S. Senate race as Tuberville moves up, SSN in big trouble, court battle over Trump’s financials begins and more …

7. “Homophobic” Facebook post leads to suspension of Madison County Sheriff’s deputy

— Madison County Deputy Jeff Graves is being disciplined for a series of comments on Facebook about the suicide of a high school student which include a meme about LGBTQ/BBQ. The more controversial comment on a Huntsville TV station’s Facebook page about a story involving a group of drag queens holding an anti-bullying event reads, “I’m seriously offended there is such a thing such as the movement. Society cannot and should not accept this behavior.” This isn’t a hateful comment. It’s rather milquetoast, but local and national media outlets have jumped on the story calling the comments “homophobic.” The Madison County Sheriff Office has launched an “audit” and stated, “The Sheriff’s Office holds all its employees to [a] high standard.” The office added, “The involved employee has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the audit.”

6. Surprising poll shows a majority of Alabama voters oppose removing permit requirement to conceal carry


— Results of a poll show that 87 percent of Alabama voters support requiring a background check to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun, while 71 percent of voters oppose removing the permit requirement. If passed, Senate Bill 4 would allow people to carry a concealed handgun without a permit or a background check. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America released the poll and had 100 volunteers from across the state travel to the Capitol last week to voice their opinion. Judy Taylor, one of the volunteers, said, “As a responsible gun owner, I know that when we remove the permitting system that keeps our communities safe, no one wins.”

5. The U.S. will no longer exempt any countries from sanctions for importing oil from Iran

— On Monday, the Trump administration announced that sanctions waivers that expire on May 2 for China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey won’t be renewed. The White House released a statement that said the intent of this decision is to bring Iran’s oil export to zero. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that they want to remove Iran’s main source of cash. U.S. officials claim not to expect a significant reduction in oil supply since the U.S. and other top oil producers have agreed to take action to assure that global demand is met as Iranian oil is removed from the market.

4. Bus driver who skipped stops fired

— The general manager of Apple Bus, which has a contract with Huntsville City Schools, announced on Monday at a school board meeting that the driver who skipped stops and was accused of refusing to let kids off the bus has been fired. The driver claimed that he skipped stops because the children were misbehaving, and he told the children that he wouldn’t stop unless they behaved. The driver also told the children that he was “taking them home to be disciplined.” The children got off the bus when the driver stopped at a red light, and police were called by witnesses who said the children were crying and scared. The driver’s name has not been released, and he will not be charged with a crime.

3. President Trump sues to block subpoena for his financial records

— On Monday, President Trump’s lawyers filed a lawsuit naming Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Peter Kenny, the chief investigative counsel of House Committee, as its plaintiffs. Cummings has said that he would subpoena the accounting firm Mazars USA LLC for Trump’s annual financial statements, periodic financial reports and independent auditor reports, as well as communications with Trump. Trump’s lawyers have asked the court to declare the subpoena invalid and unenforceable. They also requested a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prohibit Mazars from providing the requested information. Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano weighed in on the issue saying that Democrats can’t get President Trump’s financial records “because they want to torment him” and went on to say that “Congress will have to state for what purpose they want this.”

2. Social Security won’t be solvent to by 2035 and will be in the red in 2020

— An annual report was released by trustees of the government’s two largest entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare. The report stated that Social Security’s trust funds will be gone by 2035. Retirees will still receive checks, but the program will only have enough funds to pay three-quarters of benefits from 2035-2093. Of course, the trustees urged lawmakers to make sure that Americans will be able to receive their full benefits. Lawmakers have avoided addressing Social Security because fixing the funding issue will likely result in higher payroll taxes, curtailing benefits or a combination of both. It’s also expected that Social Security’s cost will be higher than its income in 2020.

1. Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh says he is out of the U.S. Senate race — new poll has Tommy Tuberville in the lead

— In a move that surprises those watching the U.S. Senate race in Alabama, Marsh announced he is out, telling The Anniston Star “I’m not running, and I’ve not made any plans to run. This comes on the heels of a poll showing Marsh polling around 4 percent and trailing announced candidate Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01), unannounced candidates, including two other congressmen, and Judge Roy Moore. Another poll included Tommy Tuberville that featured the former Auburn head coach leading with 23 percent of those polling choosing him. With Marsh and Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) out, this race could be far less crowded than most people expected it to be.



2 hours ago

Ad challenges Doug Jones on assertion that Boston Marathon Bomber should be allowed to vote while in jail

Senator Doug Jones’ (D-AL) partisan pledge to back whomever the Democrats nominate against President Donald Trump in 2020 is already manifesting itself as a major political – and policy – blunder by the incumbent from Mountain Brook as Jones seeks re-election of his own.

Hours after the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) erected an Alabama billboard tying Jones to far-left “socialist” healthcare plans, a new video ad was released challenging Jones to answer whether he agrees with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), two leading contenders for the Democrats’ 2020 presidential nomination, when they said during a CNN town hall Monday evening that the Boston Marathon Bomber and all other U.S. citizens currently serving domestic prison sentences should be allowed to vote.



This is not the only radical policy issue that Jones has tacitly promised to support with his blanket presidential pledge, nor could it be the last.

Expect to see Republicans continue to tie Jones to national Democratic ideas that the clear majority of Alabamians disagree with. In 2016, Trump beat Hillary Clinton 62.9 percent to 34.6 percent, which was a difference of almost 600,000 votes.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Major bills to get committee hearings on Tuesday

MONTGOMERY — Tuesday is expected to be an interesting day in the Alabama legislature, as respective bills dealing with the lottery and constitutional carry are set to receive committee consideration.

State Sen. Greg Albritton’s (R-Range) lottery bill – SB 220 – and State Sen. Gerald Allen’s (R-Tuscaloosa) bill eliminating firearm permit requirements – SB 4 – are on the Senate Tourism Committee’s meeting agenda for 2:00 p.m. You can listen live here.

Additionally, State Sen. Cam Ward’s (R-Alabaster) open records reform bill, SB 237, is on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee’s meeting agenda for 1:00 p.m. Listen live to that here.


Both meetings are in room 825 of the State House.

SB 220 and SB 4 have each received a public hearing in recent weeks.

SB 4’s public hearing was in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

SB 220 is the only clean lottery legislation that has been filed this session.

SB 237 is known as the “Alabama Open Records Act.” State Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) is carrying the bill in the House.

The House will gavel in at 1:00 p.m. Tuesday, while the Senate will begin its legislative day at 3:00 p.m.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

Another state legislator looking at 2020 U.S. Senate bid

Episode five of “The Insider with Sean Ross” has the scoop on a new potential candidate looking at mounting a Republican 2020 U.S. Senate bid. This time, it is a state legislator who voted against the Rebuild Alabama Act, Gov. Kay Ivey’s infrastructure package that will raise the state fuel tax 10 cents over three years.


Join Sean Ross for the inside scoop on all the latest from Goat Hill to Capitol Hill as he hosts “The Insider,” a podcast on the new Yellowhammer Podcast Network.

Episodes will be released as news breaks, so subscribe now to stay in the know on all things political in Alabama.

15 hours ago

Del Marsh not running for U.S. Senate in 2020

Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) has confirmed to Yellowhammer News that he will not run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) in 2020.


This came after The Anniston Star published an interview Monday evening with Marsh saying, “I’m not running.”

Marsh, who has been one of Alabama’s most powerful people since the Republican takeover of the state legislature in 2010, was rumored for months to be a leading contender for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination this cycle.

However, Yellowhammer News had reported in recent weeks online and on WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show” that Marsh had become significantly less likely to mount a bid.

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) also confirmed recently that he will not run for Jones’ seat in 2020.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) and former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville are the only announced Republican candidates thus far.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn