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3 weeks 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)

41 mins ago

Auburn Police officer shot in the line of duty

An Auburn Police Department officer was shot in the line of duty Friday evening.

Sources reportedly confirmed the shooting to WVTM. The condition of the officer was not immediately known.

The shooting occurred at the Dollar General near Niffer’s Place off of Opelika Road.

WSFA was on the scene live in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, which resulted in a massive police presence. The suspect is believed to still be at-large, with a “manhunt” underway.


This comes after Birmingham Police Department Sgt. Wytasha Carter and Mobile Police Department Officer Sean Tuder were shot and killed in the line of duty in recent weeks.

This is breaking news and may be updated.

Update 8:00 p.m.:

WSFA posted a new live stream.

Update 8:15 p.m.:

Police administrators told reporters the incident occurred shortly after 5:30 p.m. as the officer pulled the suspect’s vehicle over responding to an armed robbery call. The officer was talking and alert when he left the scene. More on his condition was not released by law enforcement on the scene. The officer was shot “multiple” times. His name has also not been released.

The suspect is Christopher James Wallace. He is 38 years old. A female was in the vehicle with Wallace at the time of the shooting. Her name is not being released at this time.

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

2 hours ago

Del Marsh on Trump declaration: ‘It is an emergency — It is about protecting this country’

Alabama Senate leader Del Marsh (R-Anniston) voiced his support for President Donald Trump’s latest action on border security while blaming Democrats for their inability to fix the long-standing issue.

In an interview with Yellowhammer News, Marsh said he supports Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency along the Mexican border.


Marsh explained that the urgency of the threat made it necessary.

“It is an emergency,” Marsh stated. “It is about protecting this country. That’s where the threat is. The threat is the southern border. All our borders should be secure. But the threat right now is the southern border. No one can deny that.”

When asked where border security should rank among the country’s priorities, Marsh said border security should be number one.

And he expressed frustration at how policy-makers have approached the issue.

“I cannot for the life of me understand how people in Congress can put people who are not citizens of this country above our citizens’ welfare, and that’s what I see happening,” he remarked.

He cited a single reason why, in his mind, the issue of border security has gone on for so long without resolution.

“Politics,” Marsh declared.

Specifically, he believes Democrats view illegal immigration as providing a pool of potential new voters and that has threatened national security.

“They have put that above the safety of the citizens of this country,” he said. “Democrats are basically saying, ‘Don’t worry about a process. Come on! We’re your buddies!’”

Marsh also pointed out the fact that he has already filed a bill in the Alabama legislature to allow Alabamians to help build the wall.

The legislation would provide taxpayers the option of checking a box on their tax returns should they want to donate to We Build the Wall, Inc.

Marsh has already donated to the fund himself.

“It’s about sending a message to this president, President Trump, that we support him and by sending these dollars to build the wall, showing our support for him,” he explained. “I believe it and I think the people of Alabama believe that security is the most important thing, the most important issue at this point in time. We want to support the wall, and we want to see the wall built.”

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News.

2 hours ago

Alabama Supreme Court reinstates Alabama Memorial Preservation Act

Attorney General Steve Marshall announced Friday that the Alabama Supreme Court has granted the state’s motion to stay a recent “[erroneous]” Jefferson County Circuit Court judgment that declared the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017 to be unconstitutional.

This means the law, which prohibits the removal and alteration of monuments more than 40 years old on public property, will still be in effect while the state appeals the decision. Marshall requested the stay three weeks ago.

“I am pleased that the Alabama Supreme Court has granted the State’s motion to stay the Circuit Court’s ruling,” the attorney general said in a statement. “We think that U.S. Supreme Court precedent clearly demonstrates that the Circuit Court erred in striking down the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act. Thus, we asked the Alabama Supreme Court to preserve the status quo regarding the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Linn Park until the Court rules on our appeal.”


It was reported that the City of Birmingham was considering removing the monument at the center of the controversy after the law was struck down. The Sailors Monument has been covered by a large black wall since August 2017, near the end of former Mayor William Bell’s tenure.

“The Supreme Court’s stay allows the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act to remain in effect until the Supreme Court resolves this appeal over the Act’s constitutionality. We continue to hold that the Circuit Court erred when it ruled that the U.S. Constitution grants cities free speech rights that they can enforce against the State,” Marshall added. “For more than a century, the U.S. Supreme Court has held just the opposite, recognizing that ‘a political subdivision, created by the state for the better ordering of government, has no privileges or immunities under the federal constitution which it may invoke in opposition to the will of its creator.’ We look forward to presenting these arguments to the Alabama Supreme Court.”

The Supreme Court’s order Friday also stayed the accrual of any financial penalties under the law.

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

4 hours ago

David Cole departs Alabama Farmers Federation for BCA

The Business Council of Alabama (BCA) is adding another star to its governmental affairs team.

Shortly after breaking BCA’s hiring of Molly Cagle from Manufacture Alabama, sources confirmed to Yellowhammer News that Alabama Farmers Federation Director of State Affairs David Cole is coming on board at the same time.

Cole, like Cagle, is joining BCA’s governmental affairs staff effective February 28, just in time for the March 5 start of the state legislative session. Most recently, Cole spearheaded the federation’s lobbying efforts in the Alabama House of Representatives.


Sources confirmed to Yellowhammer News Friday that federation Executive Director Paul Pinyan sent out an email announcing Cole’s departure and thanking him for his commitment to Alabama agriculture — the state’s biggest industry. Pinyan also outlined how the staff would be moved around in response to Cole leaving.

Director of External Affairs Matthew Durdin – and his staff members, Director of Agricultural Legislation Preston Roberts and administrative assistant Jessica Mims – will now be involved in some state governmental affairs work. Former Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman, who has been working as a political consultant for the federation, will now add governmental affairs work on contract.

An official announcement with details of the federation’s staff changes is expected to be released in the coming week.

Update, 6:15 p.m.:

BCA President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt announced the two major additions in an internal email sent out to the business council’s leadership Friday evening. Britt took the reigns of BCA January 2. Cagle and Cole are her first hires.

The email detailed that Cole is being named senior vice president of governmental affairs and Cagle vice president of governmental affairs.

“These two additions to our team position the BCA to serve our members and advocate effectively on behalf of the business community,” Britt wrote.

Mark Colson, who most recently filled in as BCA’s interim president after serving as chief of staff and senior vice president for governmental affairs, will continue to serve the organization in his new role as senior advisor through the transition period.

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

5 hours ago

Molly Cagle joining BCA from Manufacture Alabama

One of Alabama’s rising stars in the governmental affairs world is on the move.

Sources confirmed to Yellowhammer News Friday that Manufacture Alabama (MA) Director of External Affairs Molly Cagle has accepted a governmental affairs position with the Business Council of Alabama (BCA). While an exact title has yet to be released, Cagle is expected to bolster BCA’s legislative affairs team.

The hire marks the first in BCA President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt’s tenure. She was hired by the organization’s executive committee in December and took office January 2.

Cagle’s last day at MA is February 20, according to an email from her to the association’s membership obtained by Yellowhammer News.


“My time at Manufacture Alabama over the last four and a half years has been incredibly rewarding. The friendships, lessons, and advice are things that I cherish and will take with me throughout my career,” she wrote.

Cagle comes to BCA with an impressive track record in legislative work, including past service as the Senate Liaison for Alabama Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh. She received her bachelor’s in Political Science, with a minor in Broadcast Journalism, from Troy University.

Named to Yellowhammer Multimedia’s “Power and Influence: Who’s Next?” list for 2018, Cagle will be a major addition to BCA as the organization refocuses on its pro-jobs mission of “making a sweet home for business” in Alabama.

Cagle’s email noted, “As I prepare to take on my new role, I want to assure everyone that the staff at Manufacture Alabama has taken the steps to make my departure as seamless as possible. A special thank you to George Clark for his guidance and support not only over the last several years but also throughout this process.”

The state legislative session begins March 5.

As of Friday at 2:30 p.m., BCA had taken down its online staff directory. An official announcement of the hire is expected in the coming days.

Update, 6:15 p.m.:

Cagle is being named BCA’s vice president of governmental affairs.

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