Jack’s Wild Life
By PJ Perea
Jack Hanna, or Jungle Jack as his many fans know him, is one of America’s most well-known naturalists and adventurers and host of the popular television show “Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures.” He made the Columbus Zoo a household name from his regular appearances on shows including “Good Morning America,” “Larry King Live” and “The Late Show With David Letterman.” Some of his most endearing traits are his wide-eyed enthusiasm and energy that are at times comical but nonetheless effective at immersing his audience into his world of wildlife. His passion for animals is infectious and is not lost on the millions of children and adults that have grown up with Jungle Jack over the many years.
At a recent appearance at the Southeast Wildlife Expo held in Charleston, S.C., the very likable TV star was enthusiastically meeting early spectators like they were long lost friends. A full hour before his stage show, he was posing for photos, signing autographs, shaking hands, stopping to talk to children and adults, and even making prank phone calls with audience members by playfully admonishing their friends who chose to miss his entertaining animal show.
Jack Hanna (JH) took some time out of his busy schedule to pass on advice to JAKES Magazine readers interested in animals and perhaps taking it to the next level and working with animals for a career.
JAKES: Jack, where would a youngster interested in animals start?
JH: Young people can do volunteer work at animal shelters or at the veterinarian’s office and really find out if they have the passion to work with animals. I got my first job, when I was eleven, cleaning cages for our family vet, Dr. Roberts, in Knoxville, Tenn. I worked for Dr. Roberts for several summers and developed my love and respect for animals. Zoo camp is another option. There a number of zoos that offer the program to teach children what it takes to work with zoo animals.
JAKES: How about training and schools?
JH: If they are serious about becoming a zookeeper, I would suggest they attend a school that specializes in zookeeper training such as Santa Fe Community College Teaching Zoo in Gainesville, Fla. and Moorpark College in Moorpark, Calif.
JAKES: How are things different for today’s zookeepers?
JH: Young people have immense and invaluable resources at their fingertips through the Internet, television and computers. I only had a set of encyclopedias when I was learning about becoming a zookeeper. During the 1970s, my family questioned my decision when I told them I wanted to be a zookeeper. Today, a zookeeper job at the Columbus Zoo will attract as many as 600 applicants. It’s become incredibly competitive, but for those who have a passion for working with animals there is no better job.
JAKES: In light of what happened to your colleague, Steve Irwin, what is the lesson you’d like to pass on to youth?
JH: The key word here is respect. If an animal hurts me, I know 99 percent of the time it is my fault. Getting hurt is one of the risks of the job, but you are putting yourself in a situation that is both dangerous to you and the animal. Remember, you are a guest in their home. Would you be disrespectful in someone’s home?
JAKES: In all the years you have worked with animals, what have they taught you?
JH: Animals have taught me something very important. Having fun is the best part of being alive!