Jim Fowler (b. 1930)
James Fowler was born near Albany on April 9, 1930. The son of a soil scientist, Fowler grew up on Mud Creek Plantation, the family farm near Albany, and in Falls Church, Virginia, where he frequented the nearby Four Mile Run stream. (As an adult, Fowler participated in efforts to revitalize the stream.) His childhood experiences in both places convinced him early in life to become a naturalist. During the early 1950s he earned degrees in zoology and geology from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, and then worked in Florida at a raptor sanctuary and in Africa as an animal trainer for a film production. Fowler began graduate work, taking on a research project in Brazil to study the harpy, the world's largest eagle, along the Amazon River. But when the opportunity for a television career developed, he gave up his academic ambitions.
During his years on Wild Kingdom, Fowler also regularly appeared with animals on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He hosted the series Mutual of Omaha's Spirit of Adventure, and in 1988 he began giving regular wildlife reports for NBC's Today show. In 1993 Fowler published Jim Fowler's Wildest Places on Earth, which features narratives and photographs of wildlife in remote locations.
Fowler designed the Wild Animal Park, one of two accredited zoos in Georgia, which opened in 1977 at the Parks at Chehaw in Albany. The zoo features indigenous and exotic wildlife in exhibits that mimic the animals' natural habitats and are accessible to the public by boardwalks. The Wild Animal Park also offers amphitheater programs, a children's petting zoo, and a reptile house.
Fowler's approach to wildlife conservation and education has drawn criticism from some scientists and animal rights groups, who claim that his sensationalized interactions with wild animals, including bringing them into television studios, are harmful to the animals and misleading to the public. Fowler counters such objections with the argument that the public must connect directly with animals before it will respond to the plight of habitat loss and other forms of environmental degradation. According to Fowler, "We need to make arguments for saving wildlife by how it will benefit us."
Fowler splits his time between his home in New Canaan, Connecticut, and his wildlife ranch in Albany, but he continues to travel around the country educating people about wildlife conservation. He is married to Betsey Fowler, a wildlife artist, and has two children, Carrie and Mark.
Jim Fowler, Jim Fowler's Wildest Places on Earth (Alexandria, Va.: Time-Life Books, 1993).
Grace F. Burridge, University of Georgia
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.