Friday, May 10, 2019

Jim Fowler Passes On

Zoologist Jim Fowler, who was the long time host of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, died on May 8 2019 at the age of 89.

Jim Fowler was born on April 9 1930 in Albany, Georgia. He grew up on a 68-acre farm, where his interest in wildlife emerged. While he was still young he made the farm a wildlife sanctuary, observing deer and snakes and training birds. He attended Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana where he majored in zoology. Mr. Fowler's primary interest was birds of prey. In 1955 he travelled to British Guiana to study the harpy eagle. He returned to the United States not only with a good deal of film footage and research, but three harpy eagles. This would lead to an appearance with one of the harpy eagles on The Today Show on April 27 1955. The appearance brought him to the attention of Marlin Perkins, who was then the host of the local Chicago TV programme Zoo Parade. At the time Mr. Perkins wanted to start another television programme, an idea that would become Wild Kingdom.

Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom debuted in 1963 with Marlin Perkins as host and Jim Fowler as co-host. Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom proved to be very successful, running until 1971 on NBC. After the network cancelled the show, Wild Kingdom would run several more years in syndication. Its original run ended in 1987. It was in 1985 that Marlon Perkins retired, and Jim Fowler spent the last two years on the show as its only host.

Jim Fowler made several other appearances on other shows beyond Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom., He was a regular guest on The Tonight Show, first with Johnny Carson and then with Jay Leno. He was also the the official wildlife correspondent for The Today Show beginning in 1988. Over the years he appeared on such shows as The Dick Cavett Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and Late Night with Conan O'Brien. He played himself in an episode of Seinfeld. He had cameos in two movies, Little Laura and Big John (1973) and Running Free (1994).

In 1997 he joined the cable channel Animal Planet. He hosted the show Life in the Wild and a revival of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom.

Today shows about wildlife and other animals are common. There is even an entire channel devoted to shows about animals, Animal Planet. In 1963 when Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom debuted, that was not the case. Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom pioneered wildlife documentary shows on American television. Without it, there might not have been such shows as Wild America, Lorne Greene's New Wilderness, Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures, or many others. There might not even be the cable channel Animal Planet. Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom paved the way for many wildlife documentary shows to come.

It must also be pointed out that Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom began in the early days of wildlife conservation. The show helped educate the public about wildlife and as a result encouraged wildlife conservation. There were probably a good many zoologists who entered the field simply because they had been inspired by Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom while young.

Jim Fowler was responsible for much of the success of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. There can be no doubt that his willingness to get very close to wildlife inspired and excited many youngsters watching the show. At the same time his intelligence, his knowledge of wildlife, and his enthusiasm for wildlife showed through. He was an early advocate of wildlife conservation, and over the years he was instrumental in the creation of several wildlife refuges. In fact, Jim Fowler's home for thirty years, six acres in Connecticut, would become the Silvermine Fowler Preserve. Jim Fowler played an important role in increasing awareness of wildlife conservation and in encouraging wildlife conservation.

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