7 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)

SchoolFest sets the stage for Alabama children

The following is the latest installment of the Alabama Power Foundation’s annual report, highlighting the people and groups spreading good across Alabama with the foundation’s support.


Plato said art imitates life. Oscar Wilde said it was the other way around. It’s an argument that continues. However, one art form brings us face to face with the connection between art and life, perhaps better than any other: theater. It’s here people act out stories, hoping their audience forgets for a moment that it’s all make-believe. Were it not for the SchoolFest program of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival (ASF), many Alabama children might never be exposed to the magic of theater.


Every year, 40,000 students attend SchoolFest in Montgomery. From the professional actors to the costume and set design, the productions are the same as those presented to other ASF audiences. Thanks to grants from the Alabama Power Foundation and others, ticket prices are discounted and many schools attend for free, exposing students from all walks of life to art.

For some, it’s an experience they’ll never forget. For others, like Emily Prim, it’s life-changing. Prim is assistant wardrobe supervisor at ASF. She remembers distinctly when the “theater bug” bit her. “I was in seventh grade at St. James School in Montgomery. We had a field trip to SchoolFest, where we saw ‘James and the Giant Peach.’ I remember it so well, because there was a Ferris wheel on stage that was the peach, and I thought that was so cool. I was sorta thinking about theater, because of shows we had done in school and stuff, but when I came to see ‘James’ here, it made me start thinking that this is something I could do after I graduate,” Prim said.

Prim’s experience is what ASF is all about. Executive Director Todd Schmidt put it this way: “It’s really a bedrock of our mission at ASF, which is to create communities through transformative theatrical experiences. It’s a lot of kids’ first introduction to theater. It’s important to do that, especially in this time of continued cuts in arts funding.”

Shakespeare Festival’s SchoolFest puts the arts at center stage for Alabama students from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Just in the past year, students have seen productions of “The Sound of Music,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Our Town,” “Steel Magnolias” and “Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963.” The latter featured 24 students from Montgomery Public Schools in the cast. Schmidt chooses shows that are appropriate for audiences of all ages. SchoolFest builds many of these productions around school curricula.

“We put our programming out to schools, and then they select what they think is relevant to what they’re doing and what they want their kids to be exposed to,” Schmidt said.

What started decades ago as productions appropriate for students has continued to expand. In addition to SchoolFest, ASF offers educational programs. There are theater classes for adults and children, and summer theater camps for students. ASF has hosted a series of conversations that are tied – at least in part – to the shows. U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell spoke alongside a cast member from “Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963.”

“These are not about our productions, but they focus on themes of the productions,” Schmidt said. “There’s one coming up that talks about women dealing with glass ceilings, working in fields normally dominated by men, which ties somewhat into the production of ‘Steel Magnolias’ and a new production, ‘Into the Breeches.’”

Lonny Harrison, director of theater at St. James School in Montgomery, has been bringing students to see productions at ASF for 21 years. “We have some students who, up to the point they’ve hit SchoolFest, have never seen a live production outside of a school play. This definitely helps get them more into the arts.

It seems like kids respond differently to every show, but whether it’s something that’s the most amazing thing to them, or something that makes them think more critically, it at least makes them think about it. When we left ‘Romeo and Juliet’ the other day, kids were saying, ‘Let’s do some Shakespeare!’ I had to tell them, ‘Small steps.’”

Harrison has a long history with SchoolFest. He saw stage productions at ASF when he was in school. His experience echoes that of many Alabamians. Were you to poll the state, you’d likely be amazed at the number of people of all ages who’ve shared the marvel of live performance in a theater at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

In Alabama, it’s a generational thing. When it comes to the art imitating life vs. life imitating art question, perhaps Shakespeare got it right when, in the second act of “As You Like It,” the character Jaques said, “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.”

The parts being played by the men and women of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival are a rich and vital service to the people of our state. These are the people who transform our children, who show them a new and lively way to understand stories, and life – its comedies and tragedies. These are the “players” who expand the minds of our young people, and show them a world that lives within their own ability to imagine.

For more information on the Alabama Power Foundation and its annual report, visit here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 hours ago

Aderholt’s advice for Alabama’s 2020 U.S. Senate candidates: ‘Make it very clear that they’re supportive of the president’

Although it is still the early going of the 2020 U.S. Senate Republican primary election campaign, U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville) has some advice for the handful of candidates seeking the GOP nod.

When asked what he saw as important to him and his constituents in Alabama’s fourth congressional district, he said it was support for President Donald Trump.

In the 2016 presidential election, Trump dominated Aderholt’s district by winning more than 80% of the vote and was the only district in the country to break the 80% threshold.


“They’ve clearly got to make sure that they make it very clear that they’re supportive of the president,” Aderholt said. “I mean, this president has as much support of any since I have been in office. I have never seen a president that has the support this president has. He has, everywhere I go, people are very optimistic that they are very positive about what he is doing. And they’re optimistic about the future. So I would first of all — they need to let their constituents, future constituents that are voters, know that they’re someone who would stand with the president.”

“As someone who is in another branch of government, we always want to make sure we don’t do just exactly like the executive or the president wants to do regardless of who it is,” he continued. “The Founding Fathers wanted the different branches to be a watchdog on each other. But, as I have seen from this president, the things that he is doing is consistent with what the voters want and what has been good for America. I’m fully supportive of this president. I think they need to communicate they’re supporting the president. I think that is probably the biggest thing right now. Alabama is a very pro-life state, and I think they need to communicate that, which again is consistent with the president’s message.”

Aderholt also suggested the Senate candidates should be supportive of Trump’s efforts to renegotiate NAFTA.

“I am also getting the feedback that the Mexican-Canadian trade agreement that the president is trying to negotiate — to redo NAFTA, people are very supportive of that,” Aderholt added. “But again, the president has been very supportive of these issues. What the president is doing, I’m very supportive of. I don’t see any issue as far as supporting what the president’s issue is.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

4 hours ago

Georgia-based Colonial sues contractor over Alabama spill

Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline Co. has sued an Alabama contractor over a spill that threatened gasoline supplies along the East Coast three years ago.

The pipeline operator contends faulty work by the Birmingham-based Ceco Pipeline Services caused a crack that spilled at least 250,000 gallons of gasoline in rural Shelby County in September 2016.


The spill shut down a major pipeline for weeks, tightening gasoline supplies along the Eastern Seaboard.

The pipeline carries fuel from Houston to metropolitan New York.

With headquarters near Atlanta in Alpharetta, Colonial Pipeline filed the federal lawsuit Friday seeking an unspecified amount of money.

Ceco Pipeline Services has not filed a response in court, and general manager Luke Hotze declined comment Monday, citing the lawsuit.

Hired to replace coatings that protect the pipeline’s exterior, the contractor failed to adequately replace dirt around the pipeline after maintenance work, the suit said.

The failure left a void beneath the pipe, which bent as it sagged.

The bend caused cracks that led to the breach, according to the suit.

The failure cost Colonial Pipeline lost income, plus money spent on repairs and cleanup, the lawsuit said without specifying an amount.

The lawsuit said Colonial Pipeline transports an average of 100 million gallons (378 million liters) of refined petroleum products daily through a system that includes more than 5,500 miles (8,850 kilometers) of pipeline.
(Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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‘School choice’ also means ‘tax choice’ in Alabama

It’s back-to-school season and for some parents, this is a happy time.

But for those whose children are stuck in underperforming schools, or schools where they are bullied or are in danger, this is a heartbreaking time, especially if they cannot afford to move or go to private school.

“There was fighting every day. People wanted to shoot me, kill me, and everything,” said Calvin Coleman in a speech about his experiences at his Mobile public high school.


Did you know that you, or your company, can help students like Calvin by donating a portion of what you already owe in state income taxes to a program that funds scholarships for low-income families in Alabama?

“When my son Carlos was in the fifth grade, he was constantly bullied and I wanted to desperately put him into a private school,” wrote Nyenya Webster of Montgomery in Alabama Daily News. Every day was a struggle, she added. “I was at a loss as to what to do to help my son.”

Then Webster learned about the tax-credit scholarship program created in 2013 by the Alabama Accountability Act that serves roughly 4,000 low-income, mostly minority Alabama students.

She applied, and Carlos received a scholarship to attend Success Unlimited Academy in Montgomery.

“Success Unlimited has been a lifesaver for my son,” Webster wrote. “He … is now considering college. My son never talked about going to college before Success.”

For those who want to help other Alabama families break the cycle of poverty through education, it’s a no-brainer.

“For a donor, it doesn’t cost them anything,” said Warren Callaway, executive director of Scholarships For Kids, one of the scholarship granting organizations funded by the program.

That’s because a tax credit is different from a charitable contribution. When you make a charitable contribution to a non-profit organization, you deduct a portion of that on your income tax. However, a tax credit allows you to take a dollar for dollar reduction in your state income tax.

“Basically, donors are redirecting some of their state income tax liability to a [scholarship granting organization],” Callaway said. “So, if you give $100 to us, you can reduce your state income tax by $100.”

Who benefits from the donation?

“The average household income for these students is under $30,000 so these are families that would have no other way of choosing the school that is best for their child,” said Ryan Cantrell, director of state strategy and political affairs for the American Federation for Children, during an interview of the 1819 podcast.

Higher-income families have always had school choice, Cantrell said, but “it’s the low-income families who get stuck with no options in under-performing schools or schools that don’t work for their child.”

There are $30 million in tax credits available and, so far, only about a third have been claimed, according to the Department of Revenue’s My Alabama Taxes website.

Here’s how you can reserve your tax credit before the December 31, 2019, deadline:

Step 1: Estimate how much income tax you or your business will owe Alabama next year by checking how much you paid last year. Individuals and corporations can donate up to 50 percent of their tax bill, and while individuals are limited to $50,000, corporations are unlimited.

Step 2: Visit the My Alabama Taxes website and follow instructions for reserving an Alabama Accountability Act tax credit.

Step 3: Send a check to one of the seven scholarship granting organizations in Alabama within 30 days.

Step 4: When you do your taxes next year, fill out an Alabama Department of Revenue Schedule AATC form to reduce your income tax bill by the amount you donated.

For more help, individuals may call the Alabama Department of Revenue at 334-353-0602 or 334-353-9770, and corporations may call 334-242-1200.

You’re already going to have to write a check for your state income taxes. Why not control where some of that money goes, especially when it has the power to change lives?

“It was a relief that nobody would understand,” said mother-of-five Alleane West in an Alabama Opportunity Scholarship video about the program’s impact on her family. “You know, you’re a single mom with boys trying to not make them a statistic.”


Rachel Blackmon Bryars is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. Connect with her at rachel@alabamapolicy.org or on Instagram @RachelBlackmonBryars.

6 hours ago

Ivey to toll detractors: ‘Nobody wants to pay for anything — We just always want the benefits’; Calls for other ‘reasonable solutions’

On Monday, the political battle over the proposed tolling for the new I-10 Mobile Bayway Bridge escalated when Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth came out in opposition to the toll. Following in Ainsworth’s footsteps and coming out against the proposal as well was another heavy-hitter, State Senate President Pro-Tem Del Marsh.

Tuesday, Gov. Kay Ivey, who has insisted on the necessity of the project and warned that “cost of doing nothing” was too high, offered a response to detractors.

Ivey indicated to Matt Murphy and Andrea Lindenberg, co-hosts of Birmingham radio Talk 99.5’s “The Matt & Aunie Show,” that a reaction to a toll was to be expected. She also said she would listen to alternatives at the Alabama Toll Road, Bridge and Tunnel Authority meeting scheduled for October 7.


“Nobody wants to pay for anything,” she said. “We just always want the benefits. If somebody has got a better idea of what the toll should be or if we should never toll. That’s the reason I’m hosting the October 7 meeting at the State Capitol for the Toll Bridge and Road Authority – so people can put reasonable solutions on the table. How do we pay for the bridge?”

“Everybody would be for not having to have a toll,” Ivey added. “I just haven’t found that option yet. It’s the reason we’re hosting this meeting with state legislators, congressional delegation, constitutional officers have all been invited to come and be specific and offer some reasonable solutions of how we can pay for the bridge without using a toll or a lower toll.”

Earlier this year, the Alabama legislature raised the state’s gas tax, part of the Rebuild Alabama Act. That had some questioning the timing of the toll coming on the heels of a gas tax increase. According to Ivey, gas tax revenue alone would hardly cover the cost of the bridge.

“When we paid the gas tax, we only did 10 cents,” she said. “It’s a lot of money for some folks, but 10 cents only brings in $320 million annually for roads and bridges across the state. The bridge itself costs $2.1 billion … the gas tax is for statewide projects, not just one project.”

When asked about the timing of her awareness of a toll for the project, Ivey did not offer a specific time. However, she did mention a specific each-way price tag of $2.25, which varied from the $6 each-way toll in many reports.

“They’ve been talking about this bridge for 20-something-odd years for the environmental impact,” Ivey said. “I don’t know when exactly I heard the proposal but $2.25 one-way doesn’t seem too unreasonable.”

According to the governor’s office, the $2.25 Ivey cited referred to the average for the frequent user. The $2.25 cost would be the average price for five days a week for four weeks with the purchase of the proposed frequent user pass at a cost of $90 per month. Also, with the proposed pass, crossing the bridge would unlimited, and the $2.25 average could vary depending on how many times a pass holder crosses in a given month.

When asked about the prospects of additional toll projects throughout the state, Ivey told Talk 99.5 she was unaware of any.

“I’m not aware of any, and the toll roads we do have are on private property as far as I know now there are no other plans for a toll road on state or federal highways,” she said.

When asked about those suggesting U.S. Highway 280 in Birmingham or other roads being tolled, Ivey decried it as “misinformation.”

“So much misinformation out there is intentional,” Ivey said. “It’s just unconscionable for folks to be considering such information. It’s easy to verify what you hear before you spout it. I just encourage everybody to look on the big side of prosperity and let’s build the bridge so we can strengthen commerce and strengthen public safety, and keep our state productive.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.