Jungle Jack Hanna talks new series, Africa and his love for the Milwaukee Zoo
When animal expert Jack Hanna began hosting "Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures" in 1993, it was but one of three animal shows on television. With the advent of animal-friendly programming like "Animal Planet" and The Discovery Channel, there are now nearly 40 shows dedicated to the antics of the almighty animal kingdom.
Yet, despite the genre's growth and popularity, Jungle Jack remains a leader of the pack as an eminently recognizable face in animal and habitat conservation, and today, "Animal Adventures" is the longest-running and most-watched syndicated wildlife show in the world, airing in 90 percent of the United States and in 40 foreign countries.
"I think what is appealing about the show is that anybody can watch it and get into it," he says. "You're not going to get a lot of long Latin names -- it's just Jack being Jack and doing a safari the same way you'd do a safari. I've been to Africa over 15 times, but each time I go I act as though it's the first time and I ask questions that anybody would ask."
In 1992, Hanna's prolific media appearances led him to step down as director of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium -- a position he'd held since 1978 -- and become the Director Emeritus. Now, on top of his Zoo duties, his 50-city live animal tour, numerous television appearances and activism, he's preparing for the fall launch of his brand new television series, "Jack Hanna's Into the Wild."
Incorporating his wife, daughters and grandkids into the show and utilizing hi-definition cameras to garner real life, behind-the-scenes footage, "Into the Wild" is an animal adventure series all his own.
"On 'Animal Adventures,' which I don't own, you'd hear me saying I'm going to Antarctica and then you'd see me down there at the bottom of the world in the next shot. With this show you're going to see me pack, see where we stay. I'm making it more fun and interesting so people can really see what we do."
Despite spending years in the spotlight, Hanna's prominent career has never been about the fame. His goal -- his life's work -- has always been about the posterity of nature's relationship with life, both animal and human. Hanna's been to every continent in the world at least twice, and has paid special attention to Africa, traveling there 15 times since the mid-80s.
"I have a little cottage in Rwanda where the mountain gorillas live and I've dedicated my life to helping the country. President Kagame is a friend of mine and I'm working with him to increase the wildlife habitat over there."
The overwhelming difficulty with many African countries, Hanna says, is corruption -- something President Kagame, who is rumored to be up for the Noble Peace Prize, does not stand for.
"(Kagame) came in and took over after the genocide and elected democratically in 2004. Now Rwanda is the cleanest, safest and most non-corrupt country in Africa so when you give money and spent time there, you see results. It's exciting helping a country like that."
His plan is to return to Rwanda on June 19 to film a one-hour special for Discovery Channel with actress and animal-lover Natalie Portman, but not without making a stop in Milwaukee first.
On May 18 Hanna and his crew of four-legged friends come to The Pabst Theater for a live-animal show featuring a serval cat from Africa, a cheetah -- the fastest land mammal in the world, a sloth, and a clouded leopard, one of the rarest cats in the world.
"Milwaukee has a great zoo. Even back in the late '80s I was good friends with then zoo director Gil Boese and we designed some of our habitats at the Columbus Zoo after the Milwaukee Zoo. I'm looking forward to coming back."
I grew up in Columbus and loved watching Hanna's Ark, which was a local show he did with his daughter in the 80's. And then I had the chance to meet and have dinner with him while I was in college. He is such an honest and dedicated person. His personality is infectious and while he may came across a little "bumbling" on his Letterman appearances, he truly wants to teach and entertain. I can't wait for his new show.
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