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“Jungle” Jack Hanna visits Fort Wayne

TV host speaks at benefit for Black Pine Animal Park

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


There might not be a lot of competition for the title of “World’s Most Famous Zoo Director,” but Jack Hanna has certainly nabbed the honor. The Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Columbus, Ohio, Hanna has been a tireless advocate for wildlife education, with over two decades of media appearances to his credit. He was Director of the Columbus zoo from 1978 to 1993, and since 1997, has hosted the syndicated show Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures, which airs at 9 and 9:30 a.m. Saturdays on Fort Wayne’s NBC affiliate. On May 7, Hanna will be at the Scottish Rite Auditorium in Fort Wayne for a benefit for the Black Pine Animal Park (www.blackpineanimalpark.com), a sanctuary and safe haven for rescued and retired animals. We had a chance to talk to Hanna about filming his show, David Letterman, and… errr, bigfoot.

Fort Wayne Reader: How did you make the jump from zoo director into television?
Jack Hanna: In 1981 and ’82, I used to do a local thing called Hanna’s Ark for the CBS affiliate here in Columbus with my daughter Kathaleen Hanna. In ’83, we had twin gorillas born here at the Columbus Zoo, and Good Morning America found out about it, sent some cameras here and we did a live interview. They cam back about a month later, and then the next month invited me to New York to appear on the show… so, I’ve been doing national television since October 3rd of ’83. We’ve done 23 years on Good Morning America and never missed a month. This is our 20th year on David Letterman’s show.

FWR: Do you enjoy doing David Letterman? He always seems to give you a hard time whenever you’re on there.
JH: No, no. Only myself and Paul Shaffer have been on there for 20 years, so it must be working. I never really met him on there, I just know him out on stage. It’s a challenge to do that show; it’s a challenge for anybody to do that show. But he’s making fun of me, he’s not bothering the animals, so…

FWR: Any wild animal that you haven’t seen in the wild that you would really like to?
JH: Yeah. Bigfoot.

FWR: Are you serious?
JH: Yeah! I went looking for the Yeti back in 1991. I went to Nepal to film tigers and rhinos. The guide had a helicopter and he took me up to 17,000 feet, the Lan Tan valley. Whew, it was way up there! It was like Indiana Jones. The most incredible two days up there. We didn’t see Bigfoot, but there were two kinds of bigfoots, my interpreter told us. One guy, sitting in this old stone building with a little fire going — I had to drink this warm yak’s milk or something with him — he said he hand the hands of bigfoot in a box, down at this monastery, but they couldn’t take me down there. That was the closest I got. But he said there were two kinds, a 3’ bigfoot and a 7’ bigfoot.

FWR: You’re putting me on.
JH: No.

FWR: Okay. So do you think it’s a primate or a bear?
JH: I’m just kidding with you. I don’t know if there is one. I’m just telling you that if it’s out there, I’d sure like to see one. There’s a lot of animals I haven’t seen in the wild. I’ve been to every continent in the world at least twice. The one thing I haven’t done is see the Komodo dragon on the island of Komodo. I’d like to go see that. And the Orangutan. I’ve seen all the other great apes in the wild many time but not the Orangutan.

FWR: Any endangered animals out there that you think really need protection but aren’t getting the attention they need.
JH: That’s a tough question. The world is full of endangered animals right now, I’m sorry to say. Protecting them is a tough job. There’s peoples all over the world that have different philosophies than we do about conservation. They grown up hunting these animals all their lives. It’s a matter of educating people of why we need to save animals. The whole key to conservation is education. Period.

FWR: And that’s what you’re going to be talking about during your visit…
JH: Yes. I’m going to have animals with me, showing some footage of that very few people have seen of my trip to see the mountain gorillas. I’ve been there five times. I just got back this morning at 4:30, in fact. I’ve been in east Africa for the last few weeks filming ten of my shows.

FWR: How long does it take you to get some of this footage?
JH: It all depends on where we go. Like with the gorillas, to get four shows, it took us almost three weeks. Now when we were in Kenya just now and east Africa, we got like 10 shows in three weeks. Usually, we can do one show in 2 or 3 days.

FWR: Were there any incidents during filming the show when things got dangerous or out of control?
JH: I was in a hang glider over Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe once that was just frightening. About 3,000 feet over the falls, big thermals were kicking me up 400 feet at a time. I’m sorry to say one of the guides I was with was killed three weeks later. That was scary. I film my show differently than other people (film their shows). I don’t want to mention names, but we don’t approach the animals. We respect the animals. I’ve had some accidents with them, yes, but the main accidents we have are with planes or cars or… you know what I mean. If you respect an animal, and keep your distance, you shouldn’t get hurt.

Jack Hanna
Scottish Rite Center
Sunday, May 7, 2006 at 3:00 p.m.
Tickets: $10.00
Call (260) 423-2593, Ext. 1

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