Jim Fowler, naturalist and former television personality, confessed at his birthday lunch at Cafe 230 to being two years older than popularly believed. Fowler said he’s 82 and “just getting started.” Fowler was treated on his birthday by the management staff at Chehaw.
ALBANY — Jim Fowler, naturalist and original designer of Chehaw Wild Animal Park, decided to ’fess up Monday during his birthday lunch at Cafe 230 in downtown Albany.
“I can never get by with anything,” Fowler joked. “(The Associated Press) said I was a little younger than I really am. I’m 82 and just getting started. But if I can have a meal like this, I’m going to announce my birthday every year.”
Fowler was treated to a birthday lunch by Chehaw staff, including Kevin Hils, zoo director; Ben Kirkland, resources manager; Tonya Hart, marketing and development director; Don Meeks, maintenance manager, and Doug Porter, Chehaw executive director.
Asked how he kept his youthful appearance as an octogenarian, Fowler pushed aside his partially eaten slice of chocolate birthday cake.
“I’ll give you a clue about that,” Fowler said. “I did ‘The Tonight Show’ about 100 times and Johnny (Carson) used to say I was the only person Marlin (Perkins) could find who was dumb enough to do what (Perkins) said to do. That may be one reason why I still look a little bit young. I don’t know.”
Fowler and Perkins, who died in 1986 at age 81, were the stars — along with exotic animals — of the long-running “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.” He’s also appeared in numerous other shows in addition of Carson’s, including an appearance as character Cosmo Kramer’s “talk show” guest on a 1997 episode of “Seinfeld.”
Fowler offered the possibility his enduring sense of humor may have kept him young.
“My wife, Betsey, is a wildlife artist and I have to have a sense of humor when I look at some of her art. That’s for sure,” Fowler said with a hearty laugh.
Fowler declared he would use the occasion of his birthday celebration to step upon his “soap box” issue of putting everyday people face-to-face with nature.
“My real passion today is learning how to reconnect children and families with the world of nature,” Fowler said. “that’s the ultimate mission of Chehaw Park. You know, you’ve got a place here that can benefit economically from Chehaw Park. Wildlife parks are competing with playing golf, with shopping malls and hanging out on the Internet, and I hope I can be a part of developing (Chehaw) and maybe putting it on national TV.”
Fowler said he doesn’t think that Chehaw should be a zoo in the “normal sense of the word,” but should be referred to as a “wildlife park.” To lower the risk of intimidating people, the park should also be careful what it calls the animals there, he said.
“I don’t call animals ‘wild animals’ anymore,” Fowler said, “because it gives you the impression they’re going to kill you.”
Fowler said he works to bring the benefit of nature to as many people as possible, with the goal of saving natural animal habitat.
“Quite a few people think we shouldn’t have animals out of the wild,” Fowler said. “We need to make sure people can see eye-to-eye with an animal — even with some of the big cats. Are you going to want to save tigers in India if you’ve never seen one eye-to-eye?”