Jack Hanna visited Slippery Rock University Wednesday evening to give a presentation about his life journey and also to show faculty, students and the Slippery Rock community live animals from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. The event was put together by UPB.
Hanna received his first job at 11 years old working at a veterinarian center in Knoxville, Tennessee where he cleaned cages. While he was in school in Pittsburgh, Hanna said he had a hard time, but he studied hard. When he turned 16 years old, Hanna went to a little zoo to be a zookeeper. He described his experiences as “living the dream.”
“I had a very difficult time in school, but I studied hard and I always knew what I wanted to be,” Hanna said. “I got drafted during the Vietnam War, but I didn’t go overseas. At that point, I just started being a zookeeper. People didn’t really care [about] the zoo in the 60s when I was in college. Today, that’s not the case.”
Hanna found his way to Columbus when he and his family went to the Children’s Hospital for his youngest daughter, Julie, who developed leukemia. He was then asked to be the director of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Hanna now is the Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium was founded in 1927. Hanna first started working at the zoo in 1978, being there for 38 years. Hanna said the zoo is the largest attended location in the state of Ohio.
“[It’s] bigger than the Cleveland Browns, Indians, Ohio Buckeyes, baseball, football, all of them,” Hanna said. “3.1 million people go to the zoo in Columbus. Columbus Zoo had the first gorilla ever born in a zoo in 1956, Colo.”
Hanna said his biggest accomplishment when it comes to the development of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has been making it a fun place for families to go, so fun that they don’t even know they are being educated. He said when he teaches people about animals, he wants to “touch the hearts and teach the mind.”
“It wasn’t Jack Hanna who built the zoo,” Hanna said. “People sometimes tell me that, that’s bull. I just happened to be a person who loves people, just as much as animals.”
During his presentation, two workers for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium brought out several different animals. Hanna brought with him a snow leopard, palm civet, binturong, clouded leopard, sloth, lemur, echidna and a cheetah.
Hanna also showed and narrated videos from his television shows during his lecture. He also educated students on the different animals as they were being shown to the audience.
Over the last 30 years, Hanna said he did the “Late Show with David Letterman” over 100 times. He first premiered on the show in 1985. He said he didn’t initially want to be on television. Now, Hanna hosts three television shows, “Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown,” “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild,” and “Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures.” “Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown” comes on ABC at 9 a.m. every Saturday morning. His other two shows are syndicated.
“Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild” has won three Daytime Emmy Awards, two for Outstanding Children’s Series in 2008 and 2012 and one for Outstanding Travel Program in 2013.
Hanna said when he films his shows, he doesn’t try to do any crazy stunts where he is put in danger.
“We’re not in reality television,” Hanna said. “That’s why our show has lasted for over 30 years because I don’t agree with shows when people show an accident with animals, of a person or whoever they want it to be. That doesn’t teach us anything whatsoever. We film our shows with respect.”
One thing Hanna said he takes pride in is the fact that he always remains himself, no matter what. He said although he doesn’t know the answers to everything, he tries his best to educate people in a fun way.
“I go on there [television shows] and I’m who I am,” Hanna said. “I’m not somebody who’s going to sit there and try to be somebody else, like a lot of people do.”
Now being 68 years old, Hanna said he’s traveled the world and he’s been very blessed to be able to do the things that he’s done. He said from the beginning, he wanted to be a zookeeper and he’s never wavered. Hanna said animals have taught him the most important lessons in his life.
“Animals taught me that fun is the best part of being alive,” he said.