After 14 years as CEO and president of the Birmingham Zoo and 50 years total working in the field, Dr. William Foster is retiring at the end of June.
The zoo’s board of directors conducted a nationwide search and selected Chris Pfefferkorn, who for three years has been the zoo’s senior vice president, to assume the role of president and chief executive officer, according to a statement released by the zoo.
Under Foster’s tenure, the zoo has completed several additions, including the Junior League of Birmingham Hugh-Kaul Children’s Zoo in 2005, Trails of Africa in 2011, Kiwanis Giraffe Encounter in 2012 and the Barbara Ingalls Shook Black Bear Trail in 2015. Most recently, it has completed the Henley Park event lawn. It is working on a new arrival area and plans to soon begin work on an exhibit to be called the Asian Passage.
The zoo also was named the top tourist attraction in the state by the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel and reached record attendance with more than 650,000 guests in 2016.
Foster has been active with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums during his career, serving on the board in 1995-2006 and as board president in 2004-2005. He now is an inspector with the association.
Foster in the statement said he was grateful and honored to have worked with the Birmingham Zoo.
“I am very proud of what my Birmingham Zoo colleagues have been able to achieve here at the zoo and around the world as we work toward our mission of inspiring passion to conserve the natural world,” he said in the statement.
He said it is the right time for him to retire for a number of reasons. He said the zoo is in a sound position operationally and financially and has a three-year strategic plan in place.
“This gives me great confidence about the zoo’s future success,” he said. “And third, Chris has been preparing for his new role as my successor since joining the zoo in 2015, and 2018 is the right time for him to assume his place as the leader of the zoo.”
In his current position, Pfefferkorn has overseen the zoo’s senior staff, developed strategic short-term and long-term planning and been in charge of conservation and research.
Previously he worked as deputy director of living collections at Oregon Zoo, general curator at Oregon Zoo, general curator at Ellen Trout Zoo, zookeeper/behavior management coordinator at San Antonio Zoo and zoological curator and zookeeper/horticulturist at Glen Oak Zoo.
“I am deeply honored to have been selected to serve the Birmingham Zoo in this capacity. … I have large shoes to fill,” Pfefferkorn said in the statement.