A Conversation with Jack Hanna

I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Jack Hanna and talk about the Columbus Zoo, his hit television show "Animal Adventures", and his plans for the future. Jack is exactly as he appears. Earnest, perceptive and very witty. He makes you feel like you've known him all your life. Here's some of the things we talked about.

AS: You keep such a hectic schedule, what do you think you would miss most if you retired?

JH: I'd miss all the people who work here. The excitement of the births. The kids, especially watching their reactions when they see their first zoo animal, Just the diversification of the zoo itself. If I retired from television I'd miss the traveling, working with the animals in the wild. When I do retire, I'm not going to travel anymore.

AS: Will you stay here in Columbus?

JH: I'll be in Montana. I have a home there. I'll always be around here because we have all our friends here, but that's where I hope to retire. I'll be at the Columbus Zoo for at least five more years.

AS: Out of everything you've done for the Columbus Zoo, what programs are you most proud of?

JH: It's not just the programs, but watching the people develop into people with a lot of pride in the work they do here at the zoo. Back in the 1970's, zoo directors/zoo keepers weren't very well thought of. But today it's changed, today we have thousands of people that work at zoos. I feel fortunate every day that I even work in a zoo. I'm proudest of the people that have built the zoo here. It's been a real team effort. Taking the zoo, all of us together as a team and making it a beautiful place, not just for the visitors, but for the animals as well. Out of everything, I'm the most proud of that.

AS: What advice do you have for a young person that would like to pursue a career at a zoo?

JH: I'd tell them they should get out and volunteer for a veterinarian, a humane society, a farm. It's not just degrees any more, get out and do something for the animals. When I was ten years old I volunteered to work for a veterinarian. I worked there four years so I've always been involved with animals. That gives you an edge. I really encourage any young person to get out and work where ever they can that has to do with animals.

AS: Do you have a volunteer program here?

JH: Sure do! Volunteer programs, volunteer classes, you can start at twelve years old.

AS: A lot of people are keeping uncommon or unusual pets now. What type of unusual animals make good pets?

JH: A gerbil, hamster, certain types of fish, parakeets, parrots. Parrots that have been raised domestically of course. You don't need to get into the tigers and lions and stuff because that just leads to major problems and it's against the law. You can get a lion now for one hundred dollars, but the habitat will cost you one hundred thousand dollars and that's what people just don't understand. I have no problem with private breeders of exotics because most of them are successful. They are people who spend millions of dollars to become successful. It's those people that aren't willing to spend the money that cause the problems.

AS: In the same vein, what animal do you feel is not suited for, or would be miserable in captivity?

JH: Well that depends on what you mean by captivity. Right now 99% of the animals come from zoological parks. Our zoo; and zoos all over the world. We are doing such a good job breeding that they're already born into a zoological situation where there is no stress or anything. They don't have to look for food, or even a mate basically, they get medical care, they've got it made. A lot better off than in the wild. The wild is not a very pleasant place to be right now in most parts of the world. There is habitat loss, poaching, disease, so many things. The natural evolution back in the eighteen hundreds, or even the seventeen hundreds is when the problem started. It's not like a natural evolution of extinction. It's the fact that we now are causing the extinction so most all zoo animals have it much better. I'm trying to think of something that wouldn't. Oh... okay, one time we brought a polar bear in here that was in the dumps up in the Northwest territory. They were going to kill it. So we spent the money and went up there and brought it here. It was the wrong thing to do. The animal probably should have been euthanized. I mean it was a full grown, eight year old polar bear that was taken out of the wild because we wanted to save it from being killed.

AS: So sometimes a humane death is preferable?

JH: Well you have to understand, this was a wild animal that had been born and raised in the wild so it didn't know any different. It didn't know what a moat was or understand a zoological situation. When we bring animals in from the wild for gene pools it's done at a very young age when they don't know the difference.

AS: What about people who believe there shouldn't be zoos?

JH: They don't understand, they haven't been to the places I've been or seen what I've seen. They don't understand about the educational value of a good zoo. You can only teach saving an animal by loving it and that's what a zoo teaches you, how to love that creature.

AS: What kind of pets do you have?

JH: I have a dog named "Brass", and a mastiff "Ben" that weighs two hundred and twenty pounds. And there's "Willy Woo" our fourteen year old cat.

AS: I'm involved with Potbellied pigs. Have you had any experience with potbellies?

JH: Of course! As a matter of fact I did a story once on a lady in California. She had this pig that was probably three hundred pounds. He lived in her house, and was fantastic. Potbellied pigs are extremely intelligent. I mean, think about it, they are pets.

AS: Well Jack, I want to thank you for taking time to talk with The Animal Source.

JH: The Animal Source is good. You can really see all of the time and effort that's being put into it. I've seen many papers start and fail here in the last twenty years. I think The Animal Source is going to stay. It reads well. It's not boring and it's fast paced. That's what I love about it.

AS:In this technology driven world animals are often placed on the bottom rung of the ladder we climb in our everyday lives. Many of us live with animals and yet few of us really know them. When we look into the eyes of our pets, most of us do not see the wild ancestors they evolved from or understand the traits and requirements specific species need in order to thrive. Many of us, except for.....Jack Hanna.

by Julie Rieser 1997-1999 The Animal Source

Other Links to Jack Hanna

Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures
The Columbus Zoo