Jack Hanna: Living The Wild Life

Jack Hanna: Living The Wild Life
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JUNO BEACH, FL – June 27, 2018 – It was a momentous occasion on a clear, sunny April morning in Juno Beach: Hundreds of residents and wandering bystanders gathered on the sand of the beach just south of the Juno Pier, waiting with great anticipation for the release of Solana, a rehabilitated loggerhead sea turtle, back into the ocean’s arms. This isn’t the first time that the efforts of Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC) have resulted in these once-wounded magnificent creatures to swim back home from this particular location, only this time there was a special guest overseeing the release. He moved through the massive spectating crowd, walking step-by-step alongside Solana until reaching the sea, all while being encircled by a camera crew that recorded every second of this action. Even from afar, that khaki safari outfit and signature outdoorsman hat gave him away. Unmistakably, that was international wildlife expert and animal conservationist, Jack Hanna.

He was on location to film a segment for his four-time Emmy-winning, critically acclaimed, nationally syndicated TV show Jack Hanna’s Into The Wild, which takes the viewer on a voyage around the planet to present animals in their natural habitats. Although this journey presents all types of sceneries and myriads of wild animals, capturing this moment with an endangered species that thrives in Atlantic waters was especially near and dear to his heart.

“If I’m like any animal, I’m like a sea turtle,” says Hanna in between laughs. “Think about it—they swim thousands of miles through different continents to go back to where they hatched! I’d say I migrate just as much. I’ve done sea turtle releases before, but never in front of so many people. It’s amazing to see how much the people here care about the flourishing of sea turtles.”

Hanna and his wife, Suzi, are based out of Columbus, Ohio but are part-time residents of Jupiter, Florida and visit as frequently as their busy, globe-trotting schedule permits. They were initially attracted to the area on account of the dog-friendly beaches. Furthermore, the Hannas have supported LMC’s mission for the last few years and wanted to share their work on turtle conservation with their audiences. Aside from the turtle release, the show’s crew filmed veterinarians at LMC performing surgeries, as well as turtle rescues. They even got up in the wee hours of the morning to film these magnificent reptiles lay eggs and go back in the ocean while it was still dark out.

“The educational programs and the medical care they [LMC] have makes it one of the finest sea turtle sanctuaries in the world,” notes Hanna.

Juno Beach wasn’t his only stop in the Sunshine State. Hanna also visited an aquatic shelter in Sarasota to check in on a large group of sea lions that his team and himself brought over from China a few months back. These sea lions are being kept in Sarasota before they are transported to a state-of-the-art sea lion habitat that is presently being constructed in the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Columbus, Ohio. Hanna, who is the director emeritus for the Columbus Zoo, forecasts that the habitat will be up-and-running in spring of 2019.

The Into The Wild crew and the Hannas also ventured into the Everglades, specifically to Billie Swamp Safari in Clewiston, where they recorded a variety of alligators, rattlesnakes, tortoises, and a resident panther in their element. Hanna and his team then wrapped up their Floridian wildlife adventure by paying a visit to 246 chimpanzees scattered amongst 12 different islands where they run free, all inside a remarkable community called Save The Chimps located in Fort Pierce.

While visiting the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Jupiter, Hanna witnessed veterinarians performing surgery on sick sea turtles as well as the release of Solana, a rehabilitated loggerhead sea turtle, on the shores of Juno Beach before she began her journey back home.

These segments will be part of the next season’s episodes, which, along with Hanna, will feature Suzi, his daughters, Kathaleen and Julie, and his grandkids, Jack and Gabriella, interacting with animals and educating the viewers. Hanna also has another daughter named Suzanne, who is the mother of four more of Hanna’s grandchildren: Brittany, Blake, Alison, and Caroline. In addition to Into The Wild, parts of the Florida recordings will also be shown in Hanna’s other TV show, Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown, which features lists of rare animals in nature.

“Florida has a great population of people and animals, and organizations such as The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission do a great job of managing their wildlife,” says Hanna. “I’m glad we get to feature Florida in our show, which will provide exposure about their wildlife to millions of people.”

Bringing exposure to specific habitat locations, facilities, and people is something Hanna has thoroughly accomplished during a four-decade career of working with animals, but perhaps his greatest footprint came with the immeasurable growth he provided to the same zoo he remains involved with today.

According to Hanna, when he first became director and CEO of the Columbus Zoo in 1978, the grounds were run-down and the attendance averaged 130,000 people a year. It became his mission to work with the city and its people to build up the zoo by way of entertaining activities, engaging educational programs, and gradual updates of the facilities and the animals therein. Enclosures evolved from mere cages to open habitats for the animals, and Hanna’s fun-loving personality and enthusiasm he showed while running his educational programs became the talk of the town. In time, more and more folks started attending the zoo.

Camera crews captured the moment, which will be part of an episode in the next season of Jack Hanna’s Into The Wild.

“The people of Columbus wanted a great zoo, so I did everything I could think of to make it better from updating the enclosures to bringing in different animals, and above all, to shore up the conservation of the animal world,” remarks Hanna.

Then, in 1983, Hanna was invited to appear on Good Morning America after twin baby gorillas were born at the Columbus Zoo, garnering local, state, and nationwide media coverage. Hanna jumped at the chance to appear on a platform where he could bring animals with him, share his own expertise about them, and bring national attention to the zoo and its programs in his own light-hearted manner. This first appearance led to Hanna being a regular wildlife correspondent for the program—to this day. Hanna’s celebrity rose over the years with multiple appearances in talk shows such as The Late Show with David Letterman, Larry King Live, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Entertainment Tonight, and many others. During Hanna’s tenure, the zoo’s attendance is said to have increased tenfold.

These ongoing participations turned Hanna into a television icon and one of the first names in the world for animal interaction know-how, but it also created a busy schedule that he says took away from his responsibilities with the Columbus Zoo. This was ultimately the cause for his stepping down as director in 1992 and becoming the zoo’s director emeritus, which allowed him to remain involved with his beloved establishment and its outside projects while following through with media engagements and personal pursuits.

Most recently, Hanna has appeared on shows like FOX and Friends, Anderson Cooper 360, and The Late Late Show with James Corden, bringing in “special guests” of the likes of screeching owls, river otters, bearcats, baby leopards, and penguins. His speaking tours consist of educational visits at local animal sanctuaries to commencement addresses at universities coupled with the combined success of Into The Wild and Wild Countdown generated an even greater pull to visit the zoo—now one of the largest in the U.S.—that Hanna helped create. Last year, there were 3.3 million people that visited Columbus Zoo, according to Hanna.

The conservation of animals is at the heart of everything Hanna does.

“I have a saying: ‘Touch the heart to teach the mind’,” says Hanna. “If you want to save something, you have to see it—and that’s why I bring animals with me wherever I go or bring audiences to the animals through the TV shows. Education has to come before conservation, and that’s what I’m all about, teaching something that’s serious in a fun way.”

Like his spirit animal the sea turtle, Hanna travels for most of the year, estimating 200 days on the road. Whether he is on speaking tours, appearing on talk shows, filming his shows, or helping with the Columbus Zoo operations that include 70 different animal conservation projects across the globe, he stays busy. As you are reading this article, Hanna is making final preparations for a trip to Rwanda where he and Suzi own a home that they visit on an annual basis. There, they will be engaging in one of the programs powered by the Columbus Zoo called Partners in Conservation (PIC), which benefits the sustainability of mountain gorillas in the wild that live near the Virunga Mountains and supports education and outreach programs in Africa. Hanna also plans to hike with the mountain gorillas and film wildlife in Akagera National Park located in eastern Rwanda. His future plans beyond that? “To find Bigfoot,” he quips.

“To do what I do, you have to love it,” adds Hanna. “I just passed the 70 years-of-age mark, but I intend on staying healthy in order to keep educating folks all over the world about animals for a long time to come.”

The footage obtained in Florida will tentatively air in the fall of 2018 as part of the 13th season of Into The Wild and the eighth season of Wild Countdown, so keep an eye out for these respective premieres on your local television networks—and if you haven’t caught Hanna around these parts yet, don’t fret, “Jungle Jack” will be back!  

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By: Juan Sagarbarria on Jun 27, 2018
Tags: Wildlife, Loggerhead Marinelife Center, Ocean, Animals, July/August 2018
Issue: July/August 2018
Get More: Nature & Wildlife

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Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Loggerhead Marinelife Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit education and ocean conservation facility located on the Atlantic Ocean in Palm Beach County, Florida.
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