MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Zoo Miami’s Ron Magill has a passion for the animal kingdom. It began when he was a young child, transported to another world when he turned on an old TV set and saw a man who would later become his mentor.
Jim Fowler took on the most spectacular feats with animals on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.
“We had to get the ropes back on that gator, fast. Rolling over many times is an effective escape behavior of gators,” said Fowler.
“The first time I saw Jim Fowler, I was probably six or seven years old. I just thought to myself, this man is either crazy or he’s just amazing, and the more I watched him, the more things I saw him do on Wild Kingdom, I realized, this is what I want to do,” said Magill.
In 1982, Magill’s dream came true when Fowler came to the Miami Beach Convention Center For Mutual of Omaha, and needed to borrow animals. Magill brought them over from Zoo Miami. From there, the two men became lifelong friends.
“I remember I was pretty envious, because he can get up and grab the attention of the audience in a hurry. I’ve got to use an animal to do that,” said Fowler.
Together, Fowler and Magill helped pass legislation to protect harpy eagles in Panama and designate them the national bird.
Now, more than 30 years after their lives merged, Magill took us along for his reunion with his hero, to a serene refuge in Georgia, where the 84-year-old passes his days.
“Jim Fowler laid the foundation for every wildlife person you see today. He was the first, and in my opinion, the best at what he did. He ventured into new territory. To this day, he continues to be a source of strength for me. He continues to be a source of guidance for me. He continues to make me realize how important it is to communicate to the world how important nature is to all of us,” said Magill.
“Today in America, we need communicators. We need somebody who can tell the public what’s in it for us by saving open space, wildlife and wilderness. And of all the communicators that I know, Ron is one of the top ones, and the fact that he thinks I have something to do with it, is fantastic,” said Fowler.
Decades after a young Magill sat in awe of Fowler on a TV set in New York City – a 5-year-old in Miami stared at her TV, mesmerized by Magill, and his interactions with animals.
“I would watch and I would just be amazed, and he can handle a giant snake or a big bird, and talk and educate, and I would just watch and ever since then I was a fan,” said Zookeeper and Mentee Mariana Rosales.
Now, at 18-years-old, Mariana Rosales met Magill, her hero, at zoo camp. She has also volunteered and has done internships at Zoo Miami.
“She just had this immediate look of wonder and passion, and awe on her face. It reminded me of me when I was her age, that incredible passion that you had for wildlife. Everything for her was a positive, wonderful thing. She couldn’t learn enough,” said Magill.
“The main thing I really want to do is like the main thing he does, which is inspire people to get out there, learn more about conservation, and just showing people that one person can really make a difference,” said Rosales.
Rosales has already scored her first job at the zoo as a keeper’s assistant. A young woman with stars in her eyes is not so different from a young Ron Magill, elated to spend time with his idol, and make his own mark on the wild kingdom.
“I will never be a Jim Fowler, but the bottom line is, if I can inspire, affect any youngster to care more about wildlife, to care more about conservation, I just feel like that’s the ultimate reward, it really is,” said Magill.
Watch our full special on Magill and his mentor Jim Fowler below.