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Lifelong devotion to zoo and exotic animals results in Animal Welfare Award

October 16, 2002

Schaumburg, IL — Sometimes, the best things in life are unexpected. The year was 1955 and a freshly minted veterinarian, Dr. Murray Fowler, had just moved to the San Fernando Valley in California, eager to begin life as an equine practitioner.

Destiny intervened, however, and his first patient was not a horse, but an abscess-afflicted camel starring in "The Ten Commandments." Nearly five decades since that fateful meeting, Dr. Fowler is being recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) with its Animal Welfare Award for his lifelong devotion to zoo and exotic animals, at the AVMA's Animal Welfare Forum in Milwaukee, WI, October 11.

After three years in private practice, Dr. Fowler answered a call to teach and began his appointment as instructor of large animal surgery at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis. Initially teaching courses in therapeutics, large animal surgery laboratory and clinical toxicology, Dr. Fowler combined his interests in plant taxonomy and photography, "spicing up" lectures with a slide collection that would eventually include more than 63,000 photographs. The enthusiastic teacher was also an ambitious student. "I made a pact with myself," Dr. Fowler said, "to audit at least one class every quarter and to take every biology and wildlife management class the university offered." No small endeavor, considering the university's lengthy class list.

Between teaching, auditing classes and working at the school's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, the first decade of Dr. Fowler's professional life was full, rewarding and primarily devoted to horses. But his veterinary experiences and willingness to tackle any animal with a problem had prepared him for something bigger-in every sense. "In 1967, the Dean decided to add a wildlife person to the faculty," Dr. Fowler remembered. He advertised the position for a year, but no one applied. "Then I thought, 'Why not me?'"

The term "Zoological Medicine" was coined to include all non-domestic animals, both in captivity and the free-ranging state. As Chief of the Zoological Medical Service, Dr. Fowler assumed responsibility for the program-the first of its kind in the world and the only one available for the next 10 years-and formed strong relationships at three local zoos in Sacramento, Lodi and Folsom, which allowed his students to gain hands-on experience beyond the teaching hospital. "The students were enthusiastic and jumped on the idea of zoological medicine," he said. "There was little literature available, and they fervently awaited information."

Dr. Fowler has authored, co-authored or edited 18 books, including "Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine," the first English language book on the subject, now in its fifth edition, and a major book on restraint and handling of animals. He also conducted the first veterinary workshop on llama and alpaca medicine in North America and has authored 93 articles on llamas, alpacas and camelids along with a textbook, "Medicine and Surgery of South American Camelids." In 1978, Dr. Fowler became editor of the Journal of Zoo Animal Medicine and continued in that capacity until 1987.

"Research was the name of the game at Davis," Dr. Fowler recalled. When giraffes at the Sacramento Zoo began dying, he determined that they were lacking protein in their diets. Dr. Fowler helped to develop techniques to test for and determine the spread of tuberculosis in hooved animals. On site at Davis, he supervised a raptor rehabilitation center that released about 500 raptors yearly and maintained 100 or more birds for education and research.

"As a lecturer and consultant, I've traveled to 60 countries. I've had the opportunity to see wildlife firsthand in England, Germany and Uganda," Dr. Fowler said. "It's been a privilege to teach about zoological medicine, and it's been very gratifying to see thetremendous amount of interest in these animals today."

Dr. Fowler is certified by the American Board of Veterinary Toxicologists, the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and the American College of Zoological Medicine, which he helped to organize and served as a charter diplomate. He has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2001 Marlin Perkins Award from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, the Stange Memorial Alumni Award (Iowa State University School of Veterinary Medicine), the Maagizo Davis Award for Outstanding Service to the Sacramento Zoo, the British Veterinary Zoological Society, the Parke Davis Veterinary Award for Outstanding Contributions to Zoological Medicine and two annual faculty teaching awards presented by the senior class of the School of Veterinary Medicine, Davis, California.

He is active in many organizations, including the AVMA, the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, the Wildlife Diseases Association, the International Association of Aquatic Animal Medicine and the East African Wildlife Society. A past president and long-time board member of the Sacramento Zoological Society, Dr. Fowler retired from the University of California, Davis, in 1991. In addition to editing, writing and giving lectures, his work in zoo animal medicine continues through consulting, most notably for Ringling Brothers Circus.

This press release was originally distributed by the American Veterinary Medical Association October 11, 2002.