By Erin Crowell
Jack Hanna has been making late night talk show hosts nervous with his
exotic animals since 1985. Hanna has even been in the wildlife industry
longer than Earth Day has existed, which is currently celebrating its 40th
Along with his current title as Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, the
naturalist and TV host of Jack Hannas Into the Wild has become an
ambassador to the animal kingdom, bringing the general populous closer to
understanding exotic wildlife from around the world.
Born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1947, Jack Bushnell Hanna started working
with animals at the age of 11, cleaning cages for the family veterinarian
a job he says he didnt mind because of his love for animals. After
marrying his wife Suzi, Hanna opened a pet shop in Knoxville before
receiving an invitation to direct a small zoo in Sanford, Florida in 1973.
From there, he became a zoo director in Columbus, Ohio, turning the
outdated animal habitats and aquarium of the Columbus Zoo into a place
where millions of people visit each year.
With the birth of baby twin gorillas at the zoo in 1983, Hanna was invited
to appear on Good Morning America since then, he has served as a
wildlife correspondent for several TV news outlets and has appeared, along
with numerous species, on shows like Larry King Live, Hollywood Squares,
The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Entertainment Tonight and The Late Show with
Between filming for his Emmy award wining TV show, Hanna appears regularly
at colleges and nonprofit events across the country. Hanna will speak at
the North Central Michigan College Lecture Series in Petoskey, on
Thursday, April 29. He will bring several animals with him, including a
cheetah, flamingo, penguin, sloth and lynx, among others.
The Northern Express talked with Hanna over the phone, whoin a very
excitable mannerdiscussed his passion for animals and the impact we all
have on their lives.
Northern Express: You just returned from filming for your TV series, Into
the Wild. Where did you go?
Jack Hanna: I was on safari in South Africa and Malaysia filming
orangutans, cobras, elephants, all sorts of creatures. We tracked down a
cheetah on foot and we were down near the Cape filming the black-footed
penguins. We even actually helped some baboons cross a road that was
fun. And, we did a story on elephant poaching and I got to become a ranger
for two days. We got back 12 hours before the (Iceland) volcano grounded
all the flights over there.
NE: How much time do you spend on the road?
Hanna: We do about 22 shows a year, and I do about 80 to 100 events from
coast to coast. I travel about 260 days a year. That also includes book
tours. I do a lot of speaking events. I have like six jobs.
NE: The animals that you bring with you at speaking engagements and on
television shows, do they come from the Columbus Zoo?
Hanna: They come from nine zoos from around the country. Im working with
zoos in Florida, California, New York, Texas it all depends on where Im
NE: Okay, heres the fifth grade question: What animal is your favorite?
Hanna: Oh boy, its hard because I love all animals; but I would have to
say the mountain gorilla or the elephant and theres certain kinds of
insects that fascinate me. The dung beetle in Africa rolls up into
elephant poop and hibernates there. Im also fascinated by certain birds;
and I love whales and dolphins
NE: You sound so excited when you talk about animals. Would you say
working with them has kept you young both in body and spirit?
Hanna: Oh yes. I think working with animals does keep you spiritually
young. I have traveled to all corners of the world; and this is just an
amazing, incredible planet we have. I teach conservation and how we can
take care of the planet and wildlife. It doesnt take a rocket scientist
to figure out that what happens to our resources, affects animals, and in
turn, affects us.
NE: What do you tell critics of your work?
Hanna: Ive tried working with animal rights groups, and some of those
people are just plain nut cases. You cant just put all the animals back
out into the wild. Thats why we have zoos good zoos, not bad ones. We
have 220 of them in this country. Ninety nine percent of our animals come
from other zoos animals that are born in captivity. Not everyone has the
means to travel like I do, and this allows people to see these animals up
close. People leave learning something.
NE: Would you say theres an endangered species or issue that particularly
deserves our attention?
Hanna: Yes, there are animals on the verge of extinction, but I think you
have to look at every little creature as something important. I dont want
to pick out the killer whale, the gorilla, or what-not. If we cant save
our icon species then what are we doing wrong?
When I became zoo director at the Columbus Zoo in 1978, there were 1.41
million elephants. Today, theres less than 375,000. The black rhino: back
in 1978, there were 60,000. Now, there are less than 30,000. But Im
optimistic. A lot of these animals are holding steady. You have to be
optimistic with what I do. Its like a football game. You go out there to
NE: Which takes us back to the objective of zoos, right?
Hanna: Right. Zoos are the one of the keys to saving wildlife. There are
182 million visits to zoos each year compare that to professional sports
like NASCAR and professional baseball combined. How many people can do
what I do? Unfortunately, not everyone can; but they can go see these
animals at a zoological park. People living in Northern Michigan might
say, Why do I care about the elephant and rhino? Once they go see them,
whether its at the Detroit Zoo or somewhere else, they say, Hey, thats
pretty cool. If we cant teach our young people to love something, you
cant teach them to save it. You have to love what you want to save. And
thats what we teach.
See Jungle Jack Hanna, along with several animal species, at North
Central Michigan College, in Petoskey, on Thursday, April 29, at 7 p.m..
The lecture will be held in the colleges Student and Community Resource
Center Gymnasium. Admission is free and the public is welcome to attend.
Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For more information on the 2010 Lecture Series,