Dr. Murray E. Fowler, a longtime Sacramento Zoo veterinarian who was an international expert at UC Davis on the care of zoo animals, died May 18, about 10 days after he had a stroke, university officials said. He was 85.
Dr. Fowler – who overcame an intense fear of snakes as a boy – was a pioneering leader in the care of wild animals. A few years after joining the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 1958, he developed a program to care for nondomesticated animals in captivity and the wild. As a result of his work, the university became the first in the United States to teach a veterinary course dedicated solely to the health of exotic animals.
In 1967, he became the Sacramento Zoo’s first regular veterinarian and helped establish a partnership with UC Davis that created a veterinary residency program at the zoo – another first of its kind. In 2006, he was honored with the dedication of the Dr. Murray E. Fowler Veterinary Hospital at the Sacramento Zoo.
“Dr. Fowler was an icon in the zoo profession whom I was fortunate to get to know as a warm and compassionate ambassador for the animals he loved,” Mary Healy, Sacramento Zoo director and chief executive officer, said in a written statement.
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Recognized as the father of zoological medicine – a term that he gave the specialty he launched at UC Davis in 1967 – Dr. Fowler was widely regarded for his teaching, scholarship and clinical practices that have been used to train veterinarians at zoos and wildlife centers around the world. He wrote the first textbook on zoo animal medicine and was an author or editor of more than 25 books and more than 250 academic papers.
He officially retired from UC Davis in 1991 but continued to train students and professionals at conferences and symposiums he attended in more than 60 countries. In 2001, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association recognized him with its highest honor, the R. Marlin Perkins Award.
The son of a pharmacist and a schoolteacher, Murray Elwood Fowler was born July 7, 1928, in Glendale, Wash. He moved with his family to Utah and grew up on a small farm in Salt Lake City.
In a 2005 story in The Sacramento Bee, he said he had a early phobia of snakes and recalled how his siblings would tease him by trying to put snakes in his clothes. He got over his phobia by reading everything he could about snakes and forcing himself to handle them.
He served in the Navy after high school, attended Utah State University on the GI Bill and earned a veterinary medicine degree from Iowa State University in 1955. He joined UC Davis after three years in private practice in Los Angeles working with thoroughbred farms and caring for movie animals.
Besides serving on the board of the Sacramento Zoological Society, he was a bishop and stake leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was a scoutmaster and district council member in the Boy Scouts of America, which presented him with the Silver Bear and Silver Beaver awards. An avid camper and trail rider, he wrote for Western Horseman magazine.
“When someone once asked him how he would like to be remembered, he said he would like to be remembered as a teacher,” said his wife, Audrey,. “He liked animals very much, but he also liked people.”
Dr. Fowler was preceded in death by his son Gene. In addition to his wife of 64 years, he is survived by a son, Alan; three daughters, Janet Alkema, Linda Allen and Patricia Craft; a sister, Aileen Freckleton; 16 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.
A funeral is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 785 Elmwood Drive, Davis. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Sacramento Zoological Society, attn: Development Department, 3930 West Land Park Drive, Sacramento, CA 95822, or http://www.saczoo.org/.