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Monday, October 4, 2010

Jack Hanna coming to Aurora to share his animal adventures




By ERIC SCHELKOPF


Animal expert Jack Hanna does plenty of clowning around during his regular appearances on the "Late Show with David Letterman."

He uses humor to draw attention to the serious message of wildlife conservation. Hanna will bring his live show Saturday, Sept. 9, to the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Boulevard, Aurora, www.paramountaurora.com.

The show starts at 4 p.m., and tickets are $29.50, available online at www.ticketmaster.com.

Hanna will have several animals with him as part of his Aurora appearance, including a cheetah, lynx, flamingo, armadillo, wallaby, Burmese python, gator, lemur, barred owl, toad, tamandua, coatimundi, grey fox, sloth, groundhog, and fennec fox.

I had the chance to Hanna about his work prior to his Paramount Theatre appearance.

 


Q - I know you are going to bring a number of animals to the Paramount. How do you choose what animals to bring to your appearances?

They are coming from the Columbus Zoo (in Columbus, Ohio) because of how close it is to Columbus. The animals never travel more than 10 hours wherever I go.

During the show, I talk about my background, and kids ask me how I got started. And then I'll show a video about me going to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda. I've been going to Rwanda since 1982. I'm going to show them how I'm taking my family up to see the mountain gorillas.

People come not just to see Jack Hanna. I tell stories about what I've done, and crazy things that have happened to me.

Q - This past summer, I understand you had to fend off a grizzly bear with pepper spray, and then you were talking about it with David Letterman on his show recently. Are your eyes still stinging after he sprayed you?

He took it and shot it right in my face. It burnt the side of my face. I couldn't shave for almost three days. But I've been hurt worse than that.

Q - It looks like you are really having fun in your appearances on the show. Why do you think the relationship works?

I really don't know. I know he loves animals. He has a ranch in Montana right across the mountains from me. But we don't see each other socially. It's just a show, and that's the way I want to keep it.

That's why it works, the way he and I treat each other. But people who might not know much about animals take away something from that show. Even though it is fun, I make sure that somebody takes some knowledge away from the show.

There's never a rehearsal before the show. We just go off the cuff. He only knows the animals I'm bringing, and sometimes he doesn't even know that because I surprise him. It's that my personality and his just mix, I don't know.

Q - What do you see as your mission?

To educate people in a fun way. The animals are treated with respect. I don't care about me. The animals are treated with respect on Letterman, not me.

These animals are ambassadors of their cousins in the wild. All I'm trying to do is educate folks about the animal world.

When you visit a zoo, you go to have fun with your family. But when you leave the zoo, you know something.

How are you going to save something unless you love something? That's what a zoo does. It teaches you a love for creatures. It teaches you to respect these animals. That's what I try to do on my shows.

Q - Is educating children one of your big missions?

Education is the number one priority of a zoo. You can't have conservation unless you are educated.

We have to educate the younger generation. My generation did terrible. Baby boomers caused more damage to the planet than any previous generation on Earth.

Q - I grew up watching "Wild Kingdom" with Marlin Perkins. Do you see yourself trying to fill his shoes?

Marlin Perkins was my hero. I used to watch him like you did. That was the first animal show on TV.

It's not a matter of me following anybody. I just happened to do it. I never dreamed about even being a zookeeper, much less being a television ambassador for animals.

I don't like the word celebrity. I don't like the word star. I don't use those words.

I'm still the same person I was on our farm in Tennessee as a little boy.

Q - Are there any new projects you are working on?

I just got back from South Africa and Rwanda where we were filming. Then in three weeks, I leave for the Amazon River. I take a boat down the Amazon filming the pink river dolphin.

Then we take off for Patagonia in Chile. We will film way up in the mountains the Andean Condors, a very rare bird. They are the largest flying bird in the world.

Q - Is that the way you like it, just keeping busy all the time?

I like it because I love what I do. My dad taught me about hard work and enthusiasm. He told me, "Jack, if you work hard and love what you do, you'll succeed."

That's my problem. I run myself into the ground because I love everything I do.

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