It’s not every day you find a corporate executive taking care of zoo animals. But for David Loper, it’s a privilege. Loper, Senior Vice President and Counsel at Protective Life Corporation, loves rolling up his sleeves for the Birmingham Zoo.
As a member of the zoo’s Board of Directors, he’s been known to stroll through its grounds on his lunch break and even on occasion, lend a hand cleaning the Children’s Zoo. We followed him one recent morning as he assisted animal care coordinator Andy Scott.
“We are so fortunate to have a resource like the Birmingham Zoo right in our backyard,” Loper said, as he rinsed down the barn where the goats live. On this day, Loper was experiencing a slice of being “zookeeper for a day,” a summer program designed for students. “It’s so vital that we expose children to the natural world, and the zoo is an excellent classroom.”
Protective Life has long been a supporter of the Birmingham Zoo, and Loper has served on the zoo’s Board for five years. He loves talking about how a trip here can change a child’s perspective, and that the zoo works hard to make the experience accessible to all.
“No child should go without having the experience of attending a zoo and learning about biodiversity,” Loper says.
His lifelong love of the natural world started when he was a boy, during many family trips to the zoo in Jackson, Mississippi. Later, as a law student at Tulane, he’d take walks through the Audubon Park in New Orleans.
“Walking through the zoo and seeing people so happy, families interacting and learning about the animals — there’s nothing like it,” Loper says.
But he stresses that the zoo’s offerings extend far beyond viewing animals. The zoo’s mission is deeply rooted in education and conservation. “One of the reasons our zoo is so highly regarded and accredited is because of research that takes place here every day,” he says.
Among the programs he’s most proud of: the Passion Into Conservation Action (PICA) Program, a grant-based initiative that sends zoo staff around the world to continue their research in the field. Recipients then bring what they’ve learned back to the zoo. This year alone, through PICA, staff members have spent time in places from the Cahaba River to study North American River Otters to Namibia to learn about Desert Dwelling Giraffes.
PICA recipients return to the zoo to share their knowledge with the staff and the public, fostering the zoo’s connection to top-notch scientific research worldwide. “The staff at the zoo does an exceptional job caring for the animals and contributing to conservation efforts. Their work benefits our zoo and community, and scientists and animals worldwide.” But programs like this take financial support.
He says there are endless ways to get involved with the zoo — including starting with the purchase of an admission ticket. “Every time someone purchases a ticket, or a drink from the gift shop, they have a chance to help,” he says. One way: guests are offered the chance to round up to the dollar with each purchase for conservation.
This long-term commitment to continuing to modernize the zoo for generations to come is vital to Loper.
He’s excited to begin the final stretch of the zoo’s $18.6 million capital campaign. In early September, the zoo debuted a new event lawn, which will provide more space for events, as well as interactive classrooms. Next up will be construction to modernize the front of the zoo, including a new entrance and membership office.
As part of the campaign, Protective Life Foundation will name the Japanese Garden, slated to open in 2019. The Asian Passage habitat will feature a beautiful Japanese Garden that will include cranes and flora, as well as animals such as orangutans, a Malayan tiger, Komodo dragon, and red panda.
“Protective Life helps the Zoo to ‘Inspire Passion for the Natural World’ in what we do every day for conservation and education with children and their families,” says Birmingham Zoo President & CEO, William Foster, DVM. The company made a Leadership Gift toward the Zoo’s hand-carved endangered species carousel, a marquee in the Junior League of Birmingham-Hugh Kaul Children’s Zoo, which is visited by more than half a million people a year.
And David Loper isn’t alone in his service. Protective Life employees also volunteered to work at the Zoo recently and created a new pasture for animals to use.
“Every time we are there, we leave with such enthusiasm,” Loper says. “It’s difficult to interact with these animals and this staff and not leave feeling uplifted.”