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Jack Hanna enjoys his wild, wild life


Jack Hanna talks rapidly in a cadence resembling a cheetah at a slow trot. Perhaps it’s because he has lots to do and places to be and he doesn’t want to waste time.

He will bring his “Into the Wild Live” show to the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds Arena on Saturday afternoon as part of the DPAO/Toyota/Car Freshner Summer Concert Series.

During a phone interview Monday from his office in central Ohio, Mr. Hanna, a few days after appearances on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and CBS’s “Late Night With David Letterman,” discussed the live show and other projects he has going on around the world. He paused once to ask a co-worker a question: “Hey — what’s that country we’re looking at in Africa?”

Gabon, he was told.

It’s one of the countries he will visit beginning in the fall as he starts filming again for his syndicated television series, “Into the Wild” (seen locally on WNYF at 7:30 a.m. Sundays) and the newer ABC show “Wild Countdown” (9 a.m. Saturdays on WSYR), designed for children. He does those shows in addition to being director emeritus at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and promoting his “animal heroes” — among them the people who run the Rolling Dog Ranch in Montana, a state where he has a summer home, and the Sepilok Rehabilitation Center for orangutans in Malaysia.

Mr. Hanna, one of the most respected animal experts in the country and the author of nine books, has another home in Rwanda. There, he and his wife, Suzi, whom he married in 1968, have built a children’s orphanage and work to protect mountain gorillas.

He does more than 80 “Into the Wild Live” shows a year.

“This will be our last show of the season,” Mr. Hanna said of his Watertown appearance. “I really love doing them.”

Mr. Hanna appeared in Watertown in 2002 for two appearances at Watertown High School. But he said he’s especially looking forward to Saturday’s presentation.

“It’s not because it’s the last one of the season,” he said. “I just enjoy that part of the country. Number two, it’s going to be a fun show.”

The show is a combination of live animals and videos, including clips from Mr. Hanna’s 30 years of TV appearances.

“It’s fast-paced,” he said.

Mr. Hanna will bring out about a dozen animals. The exact ones to appear aren’t confirmed until a few days before the show, but a spokeswoman for Mr. Hanna said audiences can expect critters like a serval cat, a cheetah, a kangaroo, an Asian palm civet, a sloth, a flamingo and a penguin.

Mr. Hanna, 66, grew up in Knoxville, Tenn., where he got his first job working with animals when he was hired by his family’s veterinarian mainly to clean cages, feed chickens and clean up after cows. He did that in summers until he was 16.

He graduated from Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, majoring in political science. Afterward, he was drafted into service in the Vietnam War. But he never let go of his dream of becoming a zookeeper.

He said his father taught him some key values: hard work, enthusiasm and to “love what you do.”

“He didn’t care if I dug holes, was a doctor or a teacher or whatever,” Mr. Hanna said. “He just said to make sure you love what you do.”

In 1973, he became the director of a small zoo in Florida with six employees and in 1978 became director of the Columbus Zoo, founded in 1927. When he took over, it was one of the lowest-ranked zoos in the country. It slowly improved attendance and its reputation under his guidance. Its aquarium opened in 1993. USA Today’s Travel Guide has named the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium the No. 1 zoo in the country for the past two years. In recent years, a water park, amusement park and golf resort have been added. The zoo also operates the Wilds, a nonprofit conservation center on nearly 10,000 acres of reclaimed mine land in Cumberland, Ohio.

Mr. Hanna stepped down as director of Columbus Zoo in 1992, about a decade after his first national television appearance when he was invited to appear on “Good Morning America” following the birth of baby twin gorillas at the zoo. Since then, “Jungle Jack” has been a tireless animal advocate in national media.

He hopes to cut back his busy schedule “a little bit” to offer more attention to his various causes and to spend more time at his Montana summer home.

“I want to hike while I can still hike,” he said.

Even at rest, Mr. Hanna still plans to be on the move.

The details
WHAT: Jack Hanna’s “Into the Wild Show”
WHEN/WHERE: 4 p.m. Saturday, May 25, at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds Arena, 600 William T. Field Drive
COST: Reserved tickets are $28 and $23. General admission is $19. Tickets may be ordered online at General admission tickets also are available at most Kinney Drugs store locations and Price Chopper supermarkets.
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