Year zoo career began:
Lori Perkins is the Deputy Director of the Birmingham Zoo where she is primarily responsible for the day-to-day operations of the zoo. She oversees the animal department, education program, security, park operations, and events. She is responsible for the experiences that the guests receive every day. The Birmingham Zoo and the city of Birmingham are both gems and Lori loves seeing the enthusiasm and support from the local community for the zoo.
Lori’s career began purely by accident. Lori earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst before beginning a graduate program in 1983 at the Georgia Institute of Technology with Dr. Terry Maple. When Dr. Maple became the director of Zoo Atlanta, Lori joined him and began participating in research at the zoo. She instantly fell in love with the zoo field and changed her goal in life from becoming a laboratory researcher and university professor to studying primate behavior in zoos.
Lori began as a research intern at Zoo Atlanta while also gaining paid experience as a registrar. She moved briefly to the Bronx Zoo where she served as a registrar before heading back to Atlanta. Her time at the Bronx Zoo was invaluable as she gained registrar experience and was able to work with amazing people. When she returned to Zoo Atlanta, she worked as a conservation biologist researching ape behavior. In 1997, the zoo opened a cutting-edge education and conservation building, and Lori became the Director of Conservation Technology.
In 2002, Lori moved to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago to become their Curator of Primates and oversee the construction of the zoo’s new Regenstein Center for African Apes. She was fortunate to be there and work with the architects every day, which was an experience she had never had before. In 2004, Lori moved back to Zoo Atlanta and became the Collections Manager before becoming the Vice President of animal departments in 2012.
In 2016, Lori became the Education and Science Director at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. In her position, part of her role was to supervise the film and tv team, which meant she was able to travel to movie sets and experience a unique aspect of the animal care profession. However, Lori missed the traditional zoo experience, and in 2018 she moved to Birmingham Zoo in her current role.
Lori’s favorite part of her job is that no day is the same as another, and each day gives her the opportunity to participate in one of her various responsibilities. The variety of the job stimulates her mind and she loves seeing how all of the different pieces fit together to support the zoo’s mission.
Lori’s favorite animal is the orangutan, which she has worked with for over 30 years and has been and will always be her heart animal. When Lori was first researching ape behaviors at Zoo Atlanta in 1984, she was tasked with studying of the famous gorilla Willie B, but was close to enclosures of both chimpanzees and orangutans. She found herself spending her breaks watching the orangutans and observing their peaceful and quiet nature. She loved that they were so self-possessed and observed everything, and she found herself hooked.
Lori would like to advise aspiring zoo professionals that in order to gain something you must give something up. That may mean giving up safety, security, or a feeling of comfort, to pursue a new opportunity. Every time Lori accepted a new position it was terrifying, and she immediately thought each acceptance was a mistake, but each one was a valuable decision. You have to have the courage to take the leap, even if you are filled with uncertainty and doubt, in order to achieve more and get the lessons that the universe is offering to you.
Lori has also been very involved in AZA committees throughout her career, which she credits with helping build her and giving her the ability to have influence. In meetings for these committees, she would often be afraid to raise her hand for fear of making a fool of herself. When she spoke up and raised her hand, she found acceptance, opportunities and personal growth. Lori recommends that others find the bravery to take a chance and never doubt themselves, as your voice is as important as everyone else’s and others want to hear what you have to say.
Lori had many role models in her career, including Dr. Terry Maple and her peer and role model Jackie Ogden. However, she had no role models of color. Lori and her peers, including Amos Morris and Lisa Stevens, were often the only people of color in a room. She hopes that they have smoothed the path a little bit for others and made it less scary, and she is honored to participate in AMZAP and further that mission.