Story and photos by BEN GRAFTON
On Saturday, June 7 the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center presented a program featuring Jim Fowler, zoologist and once host of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. The theater was filled to capacity by an excited crowd representing at least four generations.
Fowler said, “I’m sure you don’t know who in the heck I am, but I’ve been around for a while. How many of you people remember Marlin Perkins?” Quite a few hands went up. Fowler said, “Hey, this is my kind of crowd.”
He continued, “When I was growing up … in the fourth grade I did a paper on birds of prey. I looked up eagles and falcons and falconry, and you know what, I did that all my life. So fourth grade is a good time to get started.”
He said, “I can talk today about conservation and zoology or I can show you some animals, so what would you rather have?” The answer rolled back: “Animals!”
Fowler went on, “I never get to talk about the things I really know a lot about. I want you to know right off the bat that… my main purpose… is how do you convince human beings that it’s important to save the natural world? Surprisingly a lot of the big conservation organizations and the zoos in America tell you all about animals – which is wonderful – but they don’t necessarily tell you what’s in it for us. So, I’m going to talk…about why the natural world is important to your life.”
He continued, “I caught a disease in Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. My disease was nobody told me what I couldn’t do… Let’s hope that we always have the vision and the dreams to be able to do things that we felt like we should do. I pushed off to Africa when I was fairly young and was with the Kalahari Bushmen. I didn’t plan getting involved with things like Wild Kingdom.”
When Fowler first got started in television in 1963 there were only three networks and he said, “We had to compete with football. So they had me out there capturing, wrestling and tagging animals to compete with football.”
At this point a number of clips, mostly humorous, of Fowler’s experiences were shown. These included encounters with elephants, an alligator, tagging a condor, and loading up Johnny Carson with a sloth.
He said, “I used to go on with Johnny Carson with things in my pockets.” Fowler checked his jacket pockets, said, “Ouch!” and pulled out a small hedgehog. He then passed the hedgehog on to Biophilia Center Director Paul Arthur, who toured the room with it.
Fowler pointed out, “What we are really trying to tell you is that this planet is miraculous. We have so many animals – it’s called biodiversity - and this… is a center for biodiversity. It’s called biophilia but it’s a center for biodiversity. There are so many different life forms on this planet that you can’t believe it. We are learning more and more.”
Animals from Zoo World in Panama City Beach, under the care of Stephanie, were next introduced. They included a two-month-old alligator, a baby black and white ruffed lemur from Madagascar, a young kangaroo, and others. They were carried through the room so that the audience could see them up close and even touch some of them.
Fowler said, “We need to start educating the public why it’s important to keep open spaces and the natural world intact. We have to learn how to affect public attitudes. We need to relate it back to ourselves. The mission today is how do we get families and children to become connected with the natural world. We need to care about the welfare about open space, wildlife and wilderness.”
Then he said, “This is an important point folks. There is something called a ‘tipping point’ where once it is reached you exceed the capacity of your natural habitat. The reason that you see lemmings marching across into the oceans is that their population has exceeded the capacity of the land to support [them]. The world is approaching its tipping point. Everybody in this room can be a spokesperson for the natural world. The more you learn from coming here the more you are going to understand some of the mission.”
Story and photos by BEN GRAFTON