It’s a Small World After All

Jack Hanna Revisits Charleston

By Shelia Watson

“Charleston is the perfect venue for an event about wildlife,” says Jack Hanna, the nationally known animal expert. “Part of the purpose in an event like this is to promote conservation and care for the natural setting, whether it’s animals or landscapes or birds. And you have an audience concerned about what you’re talking about. Of course, Charleston lends itself to that type of thing.”

This year marks Hanna’s second visit as a SEWE presenter, and his enthusiasm for the event hasn’t waned.

“I had a great time the first year I attended,” Hanna says. “I consider this the finest wildlife expo in the country. The artists are among the best in the country, and the overall organization is unbelievable. Everything is efficient and very well planned. I go to a lot of these expos, and you can believe me when I say Charleston does a tremendous job.”

Hanna’s endorsement is high praise. After all, this is a man whose background qualifies him to know what constitutes “finest” when it comes to wildlife events.

His first job was working for the family vet cleaning cages. That was the place, he says, where he learned to develop a lot of respect for animals.

He met his wife Suzi at Muskingum College, and soon after getting married, they opened a pet shop. Hanna had always wanted to work in a zoo, and in 1973 he received an offer to direct a small zoo in Sanford, Fla., where he stayed until a family illness forced him to leave the job in 1975.

By 1978, he missed working with animals enough to answer an ad for director of the Columbus Zoo. During his stint as executive director from 1978 to 1992, Hanna says, “I worked with many people to improve the zoo and bring it to the state-of-the-art park it is today.”

In 1983, he agreed to go on “Good Morning America,” eager for the opportunity to raise awareness of animals. He has been a regular guest and correspondent since.

He first appeared on “The Late Show with David Letterman” in 1985 and now is a regular guest several times a year.

His other television appearances include “Larry King Live,” “Hollywood Squares,” “The Maury Povich Show,” “Entertainment Tonight” and “Hannity & Colmes.” He also serves as correspondent to various news programs.

“The animals I bring on television are cared for by professionals and are ambassadors to their cousins in the wild,” Hanna says.

By 1992, because his media appearances started taking up a lot of time and he could no longer manage day-to-day activities at the zoo, he became director emeritus, a position he holds today.

In 1993, he became host of “Jack Hanna’s Animals Adventures,” a nationally syndicated television series.

Although he travels a great deal—his attendance at SEWE comes after a whirlwind 10-city tour—Hanna still calls central Ohio home.

“I’ve traveled all over the place,” he says. “I’ve done speeches at theaters, I’ve presented at Sea World and I’ve visited a host of places talking about animals. I’ve seen so many different types of venues, and the thing that sets this wildlife expo apart from the others is the obvious concern about the environment in so many different forms. You can see it in the presentations and in the art. You’re exposed to it from every facet.”

In many respects, Hanna considers himself an educator. “I think the most important thing people should learn about animals is that we live in a world that’s very small. What we do affects everyone else. And we can’t forget that it affects the animals as well.”

Published in the Post and Courier’s Southeastern Wildlife Expo supplement