By DOTTY NIST
Jim Fowler, renowned naturalist and star of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and other television programs, was in Walton County on Aug. 27 for presentations at the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center.
Due to the interest in Fowler’s appearance, both morning and afternoon sessions were scheduled at the nature education center near Freeport. Fowler shared the stage with cats native to Florida, Africa and South America for the first appearance.
All ages were present. Fowler entertained the groups with behind-the-scenes stories from Wild Kingdom and from his other television work, which included frequent guest spots with animals on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Appearing with a “new knee” and a cane, Fowler said he finds that the early 30s is the approximate “cut-off” age for people who recognize him as Marlin Perkins’ co-star on Wild Kingdom. The program ran from 1962 to 1989. Some younger people today do not even know who Johnny Carson was, Fowler observed. However, some of them remember him (Fowler) from an appearance on Seinfeld, he noted.
He said he continues to work as a private contractor with Mutual of Omaha but in a less active role. Today, he said, he has a wildlife ranching operation and puts much of his effort toward designing ecological wildlife parks aimed at providing the public with adventures in the natural world. “We need to compete with malls,” he told attendees.
Fowler referred to animals as “ambassadors of the natural world” that help people reconnect with “the real outdoors.”
He spoke to the need for nature enthusiasts to communicate better with the public to get out their message. One problem, he said, is that the word “conservation” may not mean a lot to the public. Instead he suggested the term “sustainability” and a term he coined, “sustainable consumption.”
While conservation and environmentalism may not be popular with many in the business community, Fowler observed, they do not seem to have a problem with the concept of sustainability.
He emphasized the importance of highlighting the benefits of preserving open spaces, habitat and wildlife in connection with recreation and nature-based tourism. This type of tourism is becoming increasingly popular, and resulting revenues benefit businesses in the surrounding community, enriching the region, he noted.
It is in everyone’s benefit to guard against destroying natural resources as the population increases, Fowler commented. This should be number one on political platforms, he urged. He encouraged everyone to think often about the “basic laws of nature that support life on the planet,” a good preparation for acting as “a spokesperson for the natural world.”
Several years ago Fowler’s efforts to create a large wildlife park near Bonifay made the news. He commented that, although plans for that location were unsuccessful, he is still working to make the park a reality somewhere in the Florida Panhandle.