Carol Perkins, who died last week at age 95, was the widow of Marlin Perkins, the famed explorer-conservationist and longtime director of the St. Louis Zoo.
Mrs. Perkins was a housewife and onetime kindergarten teacher, who had never been in the wilds when she married Marlin. She admitted later that she hadn’t known what she was getting into the first time she accompanied her husband on his explorations.
While she started as his travel companion, she grew to become his partner as well as a noted conservationist, author, TV commentator and lecturer in her own right.
She led 32 safaris of her own in Africa, two in Australia and three expeditions to India, Nepal and Sikkim.
Back home, Carol and Marlin Perkins established what came to be called the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, to rescue several species of wolves from extinction.
Mrs. Perkins helped establish the Open Door Animal Sanctuary, a no-kill shelter for dogs and cats in High Ridge.
She fought to halt the killing of baby harp seals at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. She traveled by helicopter onto the ice floes to film the massacre for TV viewers, evidence that led to the successful prosecution of the sealers.
Carol Morse Perkins died Saturday (Oct. 20, 2012) at her home in Clayton. Family members said she had been in declining health for several years.
She was born in St. Paul, Minn., graduated from the University of Minnesota and taught for a year before marrying John Cotsworth, a steel salesman. During World War II, she and her husband became friends of Marlin Perkins and his wife.
After Mrs. Perkins and her husband divorced in 1959, she learned that Marlin, long-divorced, had been in love with her for years. They married in 1960 in Chicago, where he was director of the Lincoln Park Zoo. Two years later, they moved to St. Louis, where he became Zoo director.
On their first journey together, to the Congo, they hiked and traveled in dugouts for weeks. One night, she began screaming in her tent.
The rest of her party came running, fearful that something terrible had happened. They found Mrs. Perkins standing alone in her tent.
“What happened?” Marlin Perkins asked anxiously.
Mrs. Perkins pointed to a lizard that had climbed from her pillow to her arm to the side of the tent.
Marlin Perkins looked at his wife as if he were seeing her for the first time and, according to family lore, said: “Aren’t you lucky to have seen it so close up.”
That’s when Mrs. Perkins realized that her life would never be the same.
Mrs. Perkins had three children, and when they were grown, she devoted herself to conservation issues. In 1974 and 1977, she helped organize the first Symposia on Endangered and Threatened Species in North America, which were held in Washington.
She appeared as a commentator with Dick Ford on KSDK-TV for five years during the 1970s. She traveled the country lecturing about her adventures and conservation efforts.
She was a popular speaker at Fort Leonard Wood and got the officers there to donate and install fences for the wolf sanctuary she and her husband founded on 63 acres provided by Washington University, 20 miles southwest of St. Louis.
The idea was to start a kind of “animal ark, something that had never been done before,” recalled Marguerite Garrick of Clayton, one of Mrs. Perkins’ daughters.
The facility has succeeded in breeding the Mexican gray wolf and the red wolf and reintroducing them to the wild.
Mrs. Perkins wrote “I Saw You From Afar,” a book about the bushmen of the Kalahari Desert; “The Shattered Skull,” the story of Louis and Mary Leakey’s search for prehistoric man in Africa, and “The Sound of Boomerangs Returning,” about the Aborigines of northwest Australia. She also wrote “Little Pierre,” the story of the star performer at the St. Louis Zoo’s chimpanzee show.
In 1974, Mrs. Perkins recovered from malignant melanoma and began serving on the National Board of the American Cancer Society. She and her husband toured the country raising money for cancer research.
The family will hold a private funeral this weekend. A public memorial service will be held next year in Carthage, Mo., where Mrs. Perkins will be buried next to her husband, who died in 1986.
Survivors, in addition to her daughter, include a second daughter, Alice Goltra of Lake Forest, Ill.; a son, Fred Cotsworth of Clayton; and seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
Michael Sorkin is a reporter at the Post-Dispatch.
Follow him on Facebook.