A tiny sparrow ruffled its beige and white feathers and cocked its head to the side as it perched on the back of a green metal chair across the picnic table from Lorrell Walter, to her delight. She was sitting outside in the autumn, afternoon sun at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo. And although the little creature was not part of a zoo exhibit, it still seemed intent on listening to her talk about its adopted home.
Like the sparrow, Walter too has adopted a new home – Central New York. Originally from California, Walter grew up riding horses competitively and working with goats and other farm animals. She said she always had a passion for agriculture and livestock.
Now, the Chittenango resident is applying her love of nature with her passion for public relations. She recently celebrated her five-year anniversary as the public relations director at the zoo.
“I’ve always loved animals and having animals as part of my career has always been really important to me,” she said.
Her journey to CNY began after she graduated from the University of California, when she decided to pursue a job in the beef industry in New York and later took a position at Latorra, Paul and McCann, a Syracuse advertising agency, where she continued to blend her love of wildlife with her career as a public relations account manager by representing a major animal pharmaceutical company.
When a public relations position at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo opened up, Walter knew it was a perfect fit for her and her career.
In a new age of technology, interacting with the public through social media has drastically changed the experience for zoo visitors, bringing them closer to the animals and helping the zoo enhance their educational mission, Walter said.
“We, like anybody else, we wish that animals could survive in the wild too,” Walter said. “But that’s just not possible.”
Although there are many misconceptions people have about zoos, they play an active role in preserving biodiversity from rapidly deteriorating ecosystems.
“There are fewer elephants in the wild than seats in the Carrier Dome,” she points out. Yet, the work being conducted in Syracuse will have a lasting effect on preserving the species for generations to come.
Throughout the year, Walter balances her time among her work at the zoo with non-profit organizations like her sorority (which helps women in agriculture), the MS Society and The Root Farm, which provides equine assisted therapy for children with disabilities. She said she also enjoys watching her 4-year-old daughter, Loriana, compete in natural beauty pageants (she has won five out of the six pageants she has competed in recently.)
Like her mother, Loriana loves the zoo, Walter said, “She knows a lot of the animals by name.”
Walter said she also loves the unique perks of her job, like the sound of roaring lions and the calls of siamangs in Primate Park. Like Walter, the zoo animals have found refuge in a place where everyone is welcome – and now call CNY their home.
For more information visit www.rosamondgiffordzoo.org and become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/syracusezoo.
By Michael Aaron Gallagher, staff writer