Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Animal expert Hanna more than foil for Letterman

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Jack Hanna does about 100 live appearances, with a support team of exotic zoo animals, every year, always hoping to raise people's awareness and appreciation of the animal world.

"It's a fast-paced, 90-minute show where I bring out live animals, show some clips, more live animals, another clip, live animals, no breaks," says Hanna, director of the Columbus Zoo in Ohio and host of the Emmy-winning Jack Hanna's Into the Wild.

"I might have a cheetah with me, a leopard, a penguin, a sloth. I bring a lot of animals. And also, I sign autographs before the show.

"(The shows are) a lot of fun for people. They might even learn something at the same time."

Hanna recently answered some questions about his show.

Q: Although you're careful with these animals, sometimes the unexpected does occur onstage. We've seen you on The Late Show With David Letterman, after all. What's your most unforgettable animal-does-something-surprising story?

A: That would be one of my worst bite stories, with me on the Letterman show. A beaver almost bit my left thumb off. But that was my fault. I picked the beaver up the wrong way. When you do this for 40 years, like me, something's bound to happen sometimes.

But that doesn't happen often. When I film in the wild, when I'm at the zoo, when I'm giving speeches, I always treat the animals with respect. Now, Letterman is totally different. I still respect the animals, but he has no respect for me. People watch the Letterman show because of how he treats me!

Q: When it comes to the animals you work with, do you have any favourites?

A: I'm fascinated by them all. I love big cats. I raised a lot of them in the 1970s for zoos. I love elephants. I think they're the most intelligent creatures on Earth. I love the cobra. I think the cobra is a fascinating reptile.

I love the killer whale and the tiger sharks. I love the fish in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Or when I go to Tasmania to film the Tasmanian devil. The giant river otters of the Amazon. I love going to Antarctica to film the penguins. The North Pole for the polar bears.

Every place in the world has special animals.

Q: Does it boggle your mind that you are actually a TV personality? That's probably something you never expected when you launched a career as a zoo director, right?

A: I was just thinking about that after doing the Letterman show and Good Morning America and Fox and Friends. What a life I've led. I've lived the dream. I achieved my dream of being a zoo director. I'm the zoo director at the largest zoo and No. 1 zoo in the country, according to a vote by USA (Travel Guide). But I've also lived the dream of being like Marlin Perkins on Wild Kingdom. He was an idol of mine.

So if anything happened to me tomorrow, I've got nothing to be disappointed about. I've travelled the world, every continent, filmed more than 400 shows all over the world, been the director of the No. 1 zoo in the country. How can anyone ask for anything more than that?

-- Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 5, 2013 D5

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