Marlin Perkins' former sidekick has a new book out about wilderness areas.

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Remember this? Marlin Perkins would stand next to a shoulder-high television screen and say something like: While we watch, my assistant, Jim, will tackle the unpredictable, dangerous and occasionally vicious anaconda. Specimens can sometimes grow to 50 feet.

OK, Jim. Go to it, you'd think. And, along with Perkins and millions of Americans who tuned in to ``Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom,' you would settle back and watch Jim Fowler.Through the years, Fowler has had his arm swallowed by an anaconda (a large snake that crushes its victims) and has been charged by a gorilla and other creatures.

He shook his head when asked about his solo wrestling matches with some of the world's most fearsome beasts.

``(Former 'Tonight Show' host) Johnny Carson started that and I can't seem to shake the image,' Fowler said with a warm Georgia drawl. ``It isn't true, you know. Marlin was right there with me on almost all of the stuff.'

The 6-foot-6 naturalist still handles animals on television - he frequently appears on NBC's ``Today' show - but he has swapped the television screen for the pen.

His new book, ``Jim Fowler's Wildest Places on Earth' is a coffee-table tome featuring color close-ups of creatures from exotic places such as the Okavango Delta and Lake Baikal. The book profiles 11 remote locations around the globe, with Fowler providing a glimpse or story for each place.

``For me, the thrill of wildness used to lie in its mystery,' he wrote. ``Now, I am equally enthralled by the complexities of wildness and by the ways in which humans are an intricate piece of the puzzle. ... Now, attention to the world's wilderness centers on the question of whether or not it can be saved.'

Fowler's love affair with wildlife began in Georgia, where his father took him on expeditions as part of the elder Fowler's job as a scientist with the U.S. Soil Conservation Service. Fowler traveled in Africa in the 1950s and ended up in South America studying eagles in 1960.

He met Perkins on the ``Today' show in 1961 and became Perkins' sidekick when the fledgling ``Designs for Survival' aired a few months later. Fowler also was there as host when ``Wild Kingdom's' last episode - No. 329, ``Tigers of Ranthambhorn' - was filmed in 1991. The show still airs in syndication in dozens of markets.

Fowler, 62, hasn't completely traded in his traveling khakis for the home life. When he is not with his family in New Canaan, Conn., he visits faraway places.

He also gives speeches as part of his work with such groups as Mutual of Omaha's Wildlife Heritage Trust and the Organization of Wildlife Lecturers.

``I've sort of become a spokesman for the natural world,' he said. ``But really, it's the animals that must be the ambassadors. If we erase the value of the animals, it's the kiss of death.'

WANT TO READ?

``Jim Fowler's Wildest Places on Earth'

From: Time-Life Custom Publishing

Cost: $39.95

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