Farewell to ‘a giant among giants’

Murray Fowler was a pioneer in the field of zoological medicine
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Dr. Murray E. Fowler, widely recognized as the father of zoological medicine, died May 18 after a brief illness. He was 85.

Dr. Fowler
Dr. Murray E. Fowler

Under his leadership, the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 1967 instituted a program on the health of nondomestic animals, the first of its kind for captive and free-roaming wildlife. Dr. Fowler coined the phrase “zoological medicine” to describe this emerging field within the veterinary profession.

Over the next decade, Dr. Fowler would establish the nation’s first residency for zoo and wildlife veterinarians and author one of the earliest textbooks on zoo animal health. Now in its eighth edition, the book has been officially renamed “Fowler’s Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine.” He also became editor of the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, a position he held until 1987.

“In Murray Fowler’s 85 years, he revolutionized zoological medicine,” said Dr. Ray Wack, senior veterinarian at the Sacramento Zoo and clinical professor at the Wildlife Health Center with the UC-Davis veterinary school. “He started the first residency program in zoological medicine in 1974 and is responsible for training many of the zoo veterinarians around the world.”

After receiving his veterinary degree from Iowa State University in 1955, Dr. Fowler spent three years in private practice in California’s San Fernando Valley. He joined the UC-Davis veterinary faculty in 1958 as an instructor in large animal surgery. Nine years later, when he became head of the university’s zoological medicine program, Dr. Fowler was named the Sacramento Zoo’s first regular veterinarian.

Friend and colleague Dr. David Anderson described Dr. Fowler as “a giant among giants” in the world of veterinary medicine. “(Murray) was the most generous, openhearted, and warm personality I have ever met. I remember fondly his professional demeanor, passionate love for all animals great and small, everlasting thirst for knowledge, incredible encyclopedic knowledge, and great humor,” said Dr. Anderson, head of large animal clinical sciences at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Fowler is a founding member of the American College of Zoological Medicine and a charter diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. An international authority on zoological medicine, he traveled to more than 60 countries as a lecturer and consultant. Brazilian zoo veterinarians even started an organization named after Dr. Fowler: El Groupo Fowler.

“He is loved worldwide as an ambassador for the veterinary profession and as someone who brought people from every corner of the globe together in the common bond of animal health and well-being,” Dr. Anderson said.

In 1991, Dr. Fowler retired from the UC-Davis veterinary school, and the following year, from the Sacramento Zoo, but he remained active in the profession and with the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians. The zoo opened the Dr. Murray E. Fowler Veterinary Hospital in 2006 to honor his lifelong contributions to zoological medicine and animal health.

“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,” said Mary Healy, director and CEO of the Sacramento Zoo. “He will always be remembered at the Murray E. Fowler Veterinary Hospital at the Sacramento Zoo. The zoo is honored to have a place to celebrate his legacy.”

For additional information about Dr. Fowler’s life, career, and achievements, read his obituary.