About Me

When I was a kid, my world revolved around kittens, theme parks and writing oddly dark short stories–until my parents whisked us off on an adventure to Brazil.  The trip affected my career more than any other event in my life.  Not because of the image burned into my psyche of my mother sambaing in the street with a half-naked transvestite in the Carnival parade, but because of a quiet afternoon at the Rio de Janeiro Zoo.

The third-world zoo was like nothing I’d seen before.  Concrete cage, after concrete cage.  Barely large enough to hold a tiger, yet holding them two at a time.  This experience brought my world into focus.  I had to do something about it.

I read everything I could find about zoos, created my own curriculum, forced my way into internships that really weren’t meant for me, interrogated zoo staff and designers, focused every project on zoo design.  And after graduation, I was hired by PGAV.

Tarpley-3323Since then, I’ve been immersed in a wide world of design, from zoos to theme parks to natural wonders.  And continuously, I’ve kept observing, analyzing, changing.  Zoo design is holistic and vastly complex.  It’s about nature, experience, emotion, awareness. It’s ever-evolving; it’s life.

Through it all, I’m still inspired by my job’s challenge, and even though I now get nauseous on roller coasters, I still coo at cute baby animals, look forward to Disney, and search for the next great story to tell.


Stacey M. Ludlum 



  • North Carolina State University–Raleigh, NC
  • August 2000-May 2003


  • Michigan State University–East Lansing, MI
  • Concentration in Zoo and Aquarium Science
  • August 1997-May 2000
Zoo, Aquarium and Wildlife Experience


Director of Zoo & Aquarium Planning and Design, December 2016-Present
Zoological Planner and Site Designer, May 2003-December 2016

  • Design animal habitats, educational big ideas, and experiential storylines for zoos, aquaria, theme parks, museums.
  • Create master plans for long term success of animal related institutions.
  • Assist with various project management duties including estimates, communication logs, meeting leadership, etc.
  • Assist and lead marketing efforts new and existing clients including writing copy, creating responses to RFQ / Ps, interviewing for projects.
  • Created and implemented a unique mentorship and professional development program called the ‘Specialty Development Team’.


Thesis Project Historic Zoo Architecture: Creating New Meaning, May 2002-May 2003

  • Intense evaluation of successful integration of historic zoo structures into modern exhibitry practices and its implications for communication of zoo message and creation of meaning.
  • Application of devised theory and principles on design site: National Zoo’s Elephant House


Zoo Design Independent Studio, July 2002-December 2002

  • Evaluated and prepared ten year Master Plan for small rural zoo.
  • Created base maps, conducted analysis, made recommendations, and prepared document including site design, master plan, design standards, and storyline for planning and marketing purposes.


Zoo Design Independent Study, June 2001

  • Intensive design workshop between principal and myself for Master Plan and detailed design for specific exhibits within Jamaica’s Hope Zoo.
  • Evaluated implemented designs at Zoo Atlanta and proposed designs for Stone Mountain Farm.


Graphics and Exhibits Intern, June 1999-August 1999

  • Developed educational themes for new Arctic and Vanishing Giants exhibits.
  • Studied and documented exhibit efficiency based on visitor interest and animal activity.
  • Fabricated and maintained graphics, signs, and various exhibit furnishings.


Exhibit Construction Crew Chief, May 1998-August 1998

  • Supervised and constructed new Colobus Monkey exhibit as part of the Wild Africa–a 50 acre expansion of the zoo.


Study Abroad, May 1998

  • Evaluated and developed management practices for the parks system.  Observed animal habitats and behaviors. 
Memberships, Activities and Awards
  • 2016 AZA National Conference Presenter: Big Bear Alpine Zoo
  • 2016 Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens National Conference Presenter: Designing for Carnivore Wellness
  • 2015 AZA National Conference Presenter: Brand and Experience
  • 2015 AZA Exhibit Awards: Top Honors for Heart of Africa at Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
  • 2015 ICEE Beijing Presenter: Designing for Enrichment: Trends In Zoo Habitat Design
  • 2013 & 2014 AZA National Conference Presenter and Session Moderator: Enrichment as Guest Experience
  • 2013 AZA National Conference Presenter: On the Boards–Tulsa Zoo “Lost Kingdom: Tiger”
  • 2013 AZA Exhibit Awards: Significant Achievement for Sea Lion Sound at St. Louis Zoo
  • 2013 Blooloop.com, Contributing Blogger
  • 2012 Mote Marine Laboratory Turtle Patroller on Longboat Key, FL
  • 2012 AZA Exhibit Awards: Top Honors for Glacier Run at Louisville Zoo
  • 2011 ICEE Portland Presenter: PGAV Destinations and Environmental Enrichment: Designing Glacier Run
  • 2011 Advancing Bear Care Poster Presenter: Building the Igloo
  • 2010 PGAV Specialty Development Team Creator and Zoo Design Team Leader
  • 2005 AZA Professional Development Class: Creating Successful Exhibits, Completion and Guest Speaker
  • 2003 LABASH Program Design and Speaker Coordination Director
  • 2002 ASLA National Student Design Competition: Graduate Team Design Commendation
  • 2002 North Carolina ASLA Award for Excellence 
  • American Zoo and Aquarium Association Membership Committee Member
  • American Zoo and Aquarium Association Commercial Member Advisory Panel
  • Featured Expert in Various News Media including the Washington Post, Vox.com, InPark Magazine, and local TV
Relevant Project Experience
  • Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, GA
  • Six Flags Marine World 2005 Expansion, Vallejo, CA
  • Six Flags Great Adventure Kingda Ka, Jackson, NJ
  • Busch Gardens Sheikra Expansion, Tampa, FL
  • Louisville Zoo Glacier Run, Louisville, KY
  • Big Bear Zoo Master Plan and Schematic Design, Fawnskin, CA
  • Brookfield Zoo Master Plan, Chicago, IL
  • St. Louis Zoo Master Plan, St. Louis, MO
  • Brookfield Zoo Great Wild North, Chicago, IL
  • SeaWorld Aquatica, Orlando, FL
  • National Aviary Expansion, Pittsburgh, PA
  • Six Flags Discovery Kingdom Rebranding, Vallejo, CA
  • SeaWorld Dolphin Show Pool, San Diego, CA
  • SeaWorld Dolphin Interaction Pool, San Diego, CA
  • Discovery Cove Reef Improvements, Orlando, FL
  • Baha Mar Resort Landscape and Animal Exhibits Design, Nassau Bahamas
  • Kansas City Zoo Entry Experience, Kansas City, KS
  • Zoo New England Master Plan, Boston, MA
  • Worlds of Discovery Dubai Planning & Design, Dubai, UAE
  • Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Master Plan, Columbus, OH
  • Tulsa Zoo and Living Museum Master Plan, Tulsa, OK
  • Milwaukee County Zoo Master Plan, Milwaukee, WI
  • Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Safari Africa!, Columbus, OH
  • Tulsa Zoo and Living Museum Lost Kingdom: Tiger, Tulsa, OK
  • Dolphin Research Center Master Plan, Marathon, FL

At home, I am the proud fur-mama of three crazy kitties (Gracie, Pablo, and Spooky-Boo) and one old-lady dog, Moe Moe.  I write fiction in my limited free-time, having completed two unpublished novels and winning several awards for my short stories.  I recently learned to play guitar and play golf terribly, and am very handy with power tools.  I’m a prolific traveler and spend a lot of time just walking around in the woods.


21 thoughts on “About Me

  1. Hello!

    So exciting to hear that there is fresh blood (so to speak) on the zoo design scene! I am a veterinary student, hoping to persue a PhD in architecture with the specific focus of formalizing the study of design for animals. If you check out my website: http://www.zooark.com, you can see a project that I had a while back studying zoo architecture. I would love to do what you are doing- but I am having a hard time melding design with vet school (not to mention, I do not have a formalized education in design).

    I wondered if you had any advice for me on future possibilities in the world of zoo design- especially if I am not an architect?

    All the best- and wonderful to meet you- even if only electronically,

  2. Katie…What a great website and amazing experience you had! I’m very jealous!

    To answer you question regarding advice on possibilities in zoo design…

    It truly depends on how you see yourself. Do you want to be in an office, creating drawings, working with multiple clients and subconsultants around the world, with lots of travel and a fast paced environment OR be in one place working directly with animals, developing long-term, day to day relationships with zoo staff, contributing to design through your own hands-on experience?

    The first requires a degree in design. You can easily get a Masters degree in Architecture or Landscape Architecture with no design background in 3 years from universities around the world. With your experience, you’d have no problem finding a job with one of the many design firms listed on the Firms link.

    The latter would keep you on the course you have set now. Finishing up Vet School, specializing in exotics, and finding employment at a zoo. Obviously in this function, you will not be working day in and day out on design projects. BUT, in every zoo project I have worked on, the vet played an important decision making part, especially if he/she has an interest in applying vet medicine / animal science to exhibit design.

    Generally, either route you go, you’ll find the zoo world to be incredibly welcoming and open to folks with ideas. If you are passionate about it, you’ll find a way to apply your ideas and knowledge. Finding the right ears to listen is the hardest part.

    Good luck and thanks for reading!


  3. Hello Katie and Stacey,

    I would add that there are very few…really, count them on one hand…people who are spending most of their time on zoo design. There isn’t enough work and there are too many firms for that dream. Most firms may also work on planning, nature centers, industrial projects, parks, etc.

    If zoos are your love, you might want to work for a zoo (as Stacey suggests). In a zoo setting, there is the opportunity to develop a program that is marketed to other zoos (like Ellen Dierenfeld’s nutrition program that began when she was at the Bronx Zoo)Also, there is no better way to learn what zoo design is!



  4. Hi Stacey,

    Nice to come across your site through a ping back to one of my own http://zoofunding.wordpress.com. I am also at Johnreganassociates.com
    I shall add you to my blogroll. You help to design and build zoos and exhibits, we help them get the funding in the first place.

    As it happens the Chester Zoo project you blogged on was something I started when I lead the Development Office there

  5. I just want to say I am currently in the beginning stages of getting my education in OUR field. I am a sophmore and hope to transfer to the university of Arizona fall of 09. Your info really helped me learn exactly what I need to do. I wish I could meet with you and see your work and talk about design process and things like that.

  6. hi.. love to see you.
    I am fadzli.. I am from Malaysia
    Basically my final year project is regarding
    on slow loris..
    hope that i can share with you about my project..
    Currently, I am in the school of landscape architecture in local university.
    Do you have any experience regarding on the primates exhibit?

  7. Hello Stacey-
    Just stumbled on your site while browsing for the Komodo Dragon project I just finished at Jacksonville Zoo. Thought I would drop you a note. I work at CLR and received my MArch from NCSU in 1994. Did the elephant project at NC Zoo a few years ago. Right now I’m working on projects at Birmingham Zoo and Dallas (with Rob Halpern). Good luck!

  8. We are in the process of preparing a proposal for Turtle Back Zoo in west Orange, NJ. The project involves exhibit design for Jaguars and Cougars as well as civil engineering design. We are Civil Engineers but need to team with a zoo exhibit designer. If you are interested in teaming with us, I will forward a copy of the RFP for your review.

  9. Hi! Your website and experiences are very inspiring. I’m in my final yr of my B.S Architecture course and currently doing my thesis proposal on Avicultural discovery complex. Basically, it’s a bird park, learning hub, and recreational spaces combined into one project. I’m having a hard time formulating on what particular facilities I should provide in such project. If I’m not mistaken, my project is somehow similar to a zoo? I hope you could give me some advice on how I should design my complex and what effective research methods I can do? Thank you!

  10. Hello! I’m also in my final year for studying B.S Architecture here in Manila. I was working on a redevelopment of Manila Zoo. I hope you could give me some advice or research where I can rely on too. Thank You very much and God bless!

  11. I’m currently volunteering at the Safari Park Open Zoo near Kanchanaburi in Thailand. It is much like you describe at the start of your post and needs serious help.

    At the moment we have complete responsibility of 2 tiger cubs, 5 leopards (2:1:2), 1 phayres langur, 4 pig tailed macaques (3:1), 1 stump tailed macaque and 1 long tailed macaque. We also take care of 2 lar gibbons. All these cages were bare and had never been cleaned (in some cases in up to 15 years) when we arrived.

    In 2 months we have deep cleaned, repaired and added substrate, logs, platforms and feeders in all cages and are now faced with the challenge of building a semi-interactive tiger playground. Very daunting!

    Any help or advice you could give us along the way would be thankfully received by us all.

    • Tat,

      Thanks so much for volunteering your time to improve, what sounds like, horrible conditions for the magnificent animals in captivity there. My best advice is to just keep on doing what you are doing. Stick with it. Keep changing their environment regularly. Focus on the animal needs first and foremost. Showing visitors the animals are healthy and active reflects the importance of good animal welfare. From there, if possible, create a PR campaign to show off the improvements to the community and explain why you are doing what you are doing. Getting community support means you’ll get donations of materials, and perhaps monetary donations to make bigger and better improvements…remove the bars, add grassy yards, clean pools. The more improvement made, the more support you’ll garner. Community support and awareness is a huge factor in the future of the facility. Once the animals are taken care of, then improve the guest experience. Guest experience is important on a psychological level, as well as a pure entertainment factor. Removing barriers is important from more than an aesthetic point of view…It removes a subconscious element of fear and domination over the animals in your care. Subtle, but true.

      Kind of a rambling answer, but hopefully, helpful. Again, thank you for everything you are doing. I’m so in awe of folks like you.


  12. Hi Stacey,
    Great site and great information. My love and passion for animals, conservation and zoos has brought me to create a blog about my visits to zoos around the world. Keep up the great work!

  13. Stacey Tarpley,
    I just want to let you know you are an inspiration to me. I am currently a 4th year architecture student perusing a Master’s and was frustrated with what to do. I was really missing working at zoos and conservation programs so much I was about to drop out until I came across your webpage.i really just wanted to do something that combined ART + NATURE + ANIMALS + MATH +MAKING A POSITIVE INFLUENCE ON THE WORLD. Thank you for the work you do! If there is any advice you can give me it would be much appreciated.

  14. Hi Stacey I was part of the original Miami Dade Zoo Design team in the mid ’70’s and enjoyed working with TA Strauser in the shack on Key Biscayne beach. We were five ‘creatives’ chosen by TA – and awarded a lower-than-average wage – to join him on this amazing adventure. Alice, Thiel, myself and another chap (can’t remember his name just now) shared TA’s vision and had a books-worth of adventures in making this zoogeographic wonder happen. I know TA had done some exhibits for the San Diego zoo prior to coming to Miami but do not know where he went from there. I moved to New York and then to London so have lost the trail.

    Did you ever come across the man in your travels and courses?
    The ‘layering’ of the paddocks at Miami zoologic park was TA’s original plan. We researched how to keep the animals safe and contained by ascertaining the depth and width of each moat according to the animal’s capabilities; this would give a most natural view of the critters which might well share the same plain in the wild.

    The Tiger Temple was another original and TA’s pet project; we were all jealous that he kept that idea for himself! I got European Brown Bears (eh) amongst others but came up with the Lemur Island outline plan and got the length and number of ‘trees’ badly wrong, with excited Lemurs building up momentum and escaping. Wonderful job.

    It is interesting to learn about your course of study. I left Columbia Pictures as a music book editor to join the Design team. I suspect none of us in the 70’s had much in the way of educational credentials with regard to this discipline but we were each polymaths and tho I have had a varied career, remember those days as some of the best!

    Kind regards and best of luck,
    Pepper Howard

  15. Hello
    I am not sure if you are working in the world of wild animal enclosure design. You appear to have a wealth of qualifications and all manner of experience but I would like to know if you are working in the design field. I have worked in zoos for many years, then, like you I went to university, in my case to read biology (mammalian biology/ecology) and to take on a masters after that. While doing this I also had a parallel career in construction and at time enclosure construction.
    I now find that my skills may be called upon again in order to support conservation projects.
    If you are employed within the world of enclosure design I would appreciate your thoughts on the subject.
    Many thanks
    Nick Ward
    Co-Founder: Conservation Development Trust

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