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Wildlife expert Jim Fowler, who brought his early interest in nature to television viewers, died Wednesday, according to published reports. He was 89.

"Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom," for which he worked with co-host Marlin Perkins beginning in 1963, tweeted about his death Thursday, saying "Jim was a true wildlife icon." He worked for more than two decades on the nature show, the Washington Post said, which reported that Fowler had a heart ailment at the time of his death.

Fowler, a standout athlete in college who was sought by the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees, instead nurtured his passion as a naturalist. He studied zoology at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, according a tweet to Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. He was internationally recognized as an authority on predatory birds and sought to educate viewers and others on "how to preserve environments for both animals and humans."

He was "never one to shy away from danger. Whether hanging out of a helicopter, bluffing a herd of elephants or wrestling an anaconda, he was always in the midst of the action," the documentary program's website said.

“Wild Kingdom” ran in syndication beginning in 1971 and reached an estimated 30 million weekly viewers and winning four Emmy Awards, the Washington Post said.

Viewers likely also remember Fowler for the antics that often ensured whenever he appeared, during more than 100 visits, with animal "guests" on the "Tonight Show with Johnny Carson." The animals, from monkeys to bears or other exotic species, often climbed over Carson or sent the late-night host running for cover.

"Whether presenting to a group of fellow animal experts or elementary school students, Fowler’s message remained the same," the Wild Kingdom website said. "What we have to do is ask ourselves, ‘What’s in it for me?’ Only then will we realize that the continued existence of wildlife and wilderness is ultimately important to the quality of life of humans.”

 

 

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