Director of Conservation Programs Honored with Prestigious Award by USFWS

Director of Conservation Programs Honored with Prestigious Award by USFWS

Friday, June 18, 2021
This year on Endangered Species Day, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recognized the achievements of Lou Perrotti, director of conservation programs at Roger Williams Park Zoo.

Perrotti has been named a 2020 Recovery Champion for his dedication and ongoing efforts to support the recovery of the rare American burying beetle.

The nationally recognized Recovery Champion Award celebrates the contributions and achievements of USFWS staff and partners whose work is advancing the recovery of endangered and threated species.

Once widely distributed across the eastern half of the U.S., the American burying beetle was given federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1989 due to dramatic population declines resulting from habitat loss and fragmentation. Today, though the species was down listed to threatened, the fight for this species survival continues thanks to collaborative conservation efforts that Perrotti has helped lead for more than two decades.

“Lou’s work on behalf of the American burying beetle is an inspiration to our partners in conservation throughout southern New England and across the entire range of the species,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service North Atlantic-Appalachian Regional Director Wendi Weber. “Just as important, he has also inspired the public to care about the American burying beetle by sharing his passion with the next generation.”

After Perrotti introduced a local third-grade class to the large orange-and-black beetle in 2015, the students spearheaded a successful campaign to have the species named as the official state insect of Rhode Island.

“This honor belongs as much to the zoo as it belongs to me,” Perrotti said. “Everyone from our vet staff to the keepers who take care of our animals every day, to all of our partners and NGOs that we work with. We should all be honored that this award is going to sit in our cabinet.”

Perrotti has worked with collaborators from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, the Maria Mitchell Association, and the Service on science-based solutions to improve the trajectory for this species, including releasing thousands of beetles on the island of Nantucket to reestablish a self-sustaining population, and monitoring their productivity through trapping and tagging.

The beetles that are released on Nantucket are descendants of beetles captured on Block Island starting in the early 1990s to seed a groundbreaking captive-rearing program at the zoo, which Perrotti has led since 1994.

“It is a great privilege and honor to have Lou as an integral part of our Zoo family. We couldn’t be more thrilled to have the USFWS recognize him as a Recovery Champion,” said Roger Williams Park Zoo executive director Jeremy Goodman. “His unwavering commitment to the protection and recovery of endangered species extends far beyond the American burying beetle.”

From his work with the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center in Panama, to conserving local timber rattlesnake populations, Perrotti has influenced conservation near and far.

“We are grateful for the incredible impact he has made on the future of animal species across the globe,” Goodman said. “It is thanks to passionate people like Lou that we can inspire others to care for the wild world we share.”

The largest of North America’s carrion beetles – meaning those that consume dead animals -- the American burying beetle can bury the carcass of bird like a quail in less than 24 hours. The species is also unique in the insect world for their equal sharing of parental duties. Both the male and the female help rear the young.

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Roger Williams Park Zoo is Rhode Island’s number one outdoor family and tourist attraction, and a leader in conservation efforts undertaken by a zoo of its size. As leaders in conservation and animal care – we create engaging experiences that empower guests to join us in conserving wildlife and wild places.  Roger Williams Park Zoo is supported and managed by the Rhode Island Zoological Society and is owned by the City of Providence.