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Long-time Director of Louisville Zoo Retires, Takes on Birmingham ‘Challenge’

Thursday November 20, 2003

Mayor Jerry Abramson announced today that Dr. Bill Foster, Director of the Louisville Zoo, will retire from Louisville Metro Government at the end of the year. Foster will move to Birmingham, Alabama, where he has accepted a job as Chief Executive Officer of the Birmingham Zoo.

“I love Louisville and the Zoo,” Foster said. “I’ve spent 27 incredibly rewarding years here. The job in Birmingham offers exciting new opportunities for growth, and at this stage in my career I’m invigorated by the idea of new challenges.”

He went on to say, “The Louisville Zoo has tremendous community support, a committed board and an incredibly talented staff. I know that the people I’ve worked with will not miss a beat in taking the Louisville Zoo to the next step.”

Abramson named John Walczak, the Zoo’s Assistant Director, as Interim Director effective

Jan. 1, 2004. He will assume responsibility for zoo operations during the search for a new director. Walczak arrived in Louisville in 1985 having been hired as the curator of ectotherms and project manager for the design and construction of the HerpAquarium Exhibit. In 1990 he took over as the Zoo’s general curator, managing construction projects and providing oversight for the animal collection. He was appointed Assistant Director in 1992 and has served in that role up until this time.
 
“Dr. Foster is a hard act to follow,” Walczak said. “But there are some exciting projects and challenges coming up at the Zoo and I’m looking forward to them and to helping ensure the Zoo’s continued growth and popularity.”

Abramson, who appointed Foster as Acting Director of the Louisville Zoo in 1988 and as Executive Director in 1989, praised Foster’s leadership in transforming the zoo.
 
“Under Bill’s direction, the Louisville Zoo has become one of the most outstanding zoos in America,” Abramson said. “Birmingham is fortunate to get a leader of his caliber.”

As Zoo Director, Foster has been responsible for the implementation of the Zoo’s Master Plan, which includes the creation of major exhibits like the HerpAquarium (1989), The Islands Exhibit (1996-97) and the recently opened $15 million Gorilla Forest. The gorilla exhibit won the national AZA Top Exhibit Award for 2003.

During his tenure the Zoo’s self-generated revenue has risen from $600,000 to $10.2 million and annual attendance has exceeded 800,000.

Foster began his professional veterinary career at the Louisville Zoo 27 years ago. At the time, very few zoos employed full-time veterinarians. During his years as zoo veterinarian, he was responsible for pioneering work in equine reproductive techniques. He successfully transferred the embryo of a Grant’s zebra into a quarter horse mare that carried the foal full term.

He is the incoming president of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, current chairman of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and past president of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians. He is a founding member of the Louisville Arts and Cultural Attractions Board and serves on the boards of Hillerich and Bradsby and the Louisville Automobile Club.