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ST. LOUIS • Marlin Perkins swam with sea lions, grappled with an anaconda and bore the harsh effects of an Indian elephant's tusk, all to teach us about the world of animals.

Perkins, a former director of the St. Louis Zoo, was famous three decades ago on a national television show called "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom." He brought us stories of animals filmed in their exotic, far-flung habitats and told about them in the patient voice of a dedicated teacher. He was a pioneer in television nature shows and an ardent spokesman for conservation and protection of endangered animals.

Back in St. Louis, folks were proud to have as their zoo chief the "Wild Kingdom" man with the mustache and toothy grin.

Perkins died in 1986 at age 81 at his home in Clayton. He was St. Louis Zoo director from April 1962 until this week in 1970 but stayed as director emeritus. He hosted "Wild Kingdom" from 1962 to 1985.

Perkins was born March 28, 1905, in Carthage, in far southwestern Missouri, and studied zoology at the University of Missouri at Columbia, where one of his pet snakes escaped and flustered the landlady.

He left after two years for the zoo, where he was curator of reptiles for 10 years until 1938. He became curator of the zoo in Buffalo, N.Y., and later was director of the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, where he and his animal charges broke into TV.

He returned to St. Louis in 1962, the year "Wild Kingdom" began showing his tales of animals and conservation.