October 2017

Animal Ambassador “Jungle Jack” Hanna to visit the Lowcountry: CH2’s exclusive interview

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

For over 30 years, he’s been a regular guest on late night TV, daytime talk shows, and wildlife programs. He’s rubbed shoulders with celebrity hosts like David Letterman, Larry King, Anderson Cooper, Ellen DeGeneres, James Corden and others. He’s traveled the world, producing his own television series including Into the Wild and Wild Countdown, currently airing nationwide, all with one mission in mind: to educate people about animals.

On October 21, Jack Hanna will make an appearance in the Lowcountry as keynote speaker for Port Royal Sound Foundation’s annual fundraiser, “Night on the Sound.” (Yes, he’s bringing animals!) The event is sold out for this year, but it’s never too late to get to know the work this organization is doing for the benefit of our community and the world at large.

It was my privilege, on behalf of CH2 magazine, to talk with Hanna regarding his interest in Port Royal Sound Foundation, his esteemed career, and his ongoing passion for education and conservation. Much like his television appearances, his tone was casual, his commentary unscripted, and his message fervent. Here are a few excerpts:

Linda Hopkins: How did you learn about the Port Royal Sound Foundation, and what compelled you to say yes to their invitation to speak here?

Jack Hanna: I get asked to do a lot of things. I can’t do them all. I want to do this, because I can see the results. I’m a big believer in letting people see, and I’m very impressed with what they are doing. You can do a little bit with a movie or a little bit with a book (and I’ve written over a dozen books), but when you do things like they’re doing there, taking people out on boats and showing them the real things…that’s why I’m interested in this.

LH: How does our local program tie in with the work you are doing worldwide?
JH: It’s so important to educate, especially in today’s world. It’s the computer world, but I don’t have a computer. And I’m very much into younger people. I don’t have a problem with computers and cell phones, but the problem is they’ve got to get outside. I have a saying, “Touch the heart to teach the mind.” You can read all you want to and watch all my shows you want to, but to touch the heart, teach the mind, go to a zoological park. Go to places like the Port Royal Sound Foundation. Then you’ll understand, because these folks are taking you out there. That’s what we do in the zoological world and the aquarium world. That’s why I’m excited about coming there.

LH: What has your celebrity status helped you accomplish that you might not have been able to do otherwise?
JH: I don’t use the word celebrity. I use the word animal ambassador. I’m just a regular person like everybody else. I never sought TV. It just so happened that Good Morning America came to cover the birth of the first twin gorillas born in the world at the Columbus Zoo in 1983. I started with Letterman [Late Show with David Letterman] in ’85. I’ve been very blessed to do this, and education is my number one goal. Yes, it’s fun to watch. I’m there talking to an audience who watch late night TV. I did Larry King for 21 years; that’s a different viewership. Anderson Cooper, CNN, Fox and Friends, The Late Late Show…I go all over the place. I go in there studying who our audience is. Like our weekend shows for kids, I have fun doing it in a serious way. I’m trying to do it in a way that they can see and learn something.

LH: If you could clear up one misconception that people have about zoo animals and aquariums, what would it be?
JH: People still think that we get our animals from the wild. Yes, we have done that [to save animals]. But 98 percent of animals in the zoological world are born in the zoological world. If anybody says Jack Hanna goes around catching foxes or lions and brings them back to the zoo, that is ludicrous. These animals are born in a zoological park or in a Sea World, and they live tremendous lives there.

It’s very simple why we have zoos and aquariums. They spend millions of dollars every year rehabilitating animals and doing research. No one is hurting animals. How do you do research on a whale, for example? Say, “Mr. Whale come over here so I can do research on you”? Research is important. I’ve learned everything I know by working in a zoological setting.

And what do they do? They touch the heart and teach the mind. That’s what you’re doing there at the Port Royal Sound Foundation. You are very blessed to have this foundation where you can actually see [animals and sea creatures] where they are living. In the zoological world, the habitats cost millions of dollars today.

LH: What do you see as the biggest threat to animals living in the wild?
JH: Well, what is their wild anymore? What people think of as the wild is now controlled environments—either by the state, the federal government or by the parks. The world population is increasing every day. The problem in the world is overpopulation. That said, the good Lord gives us what air we breathe, what water we drink, what woods we use to build homes. We have a world here, and it’s only so big. When you travel a lot and you see what I have seen, then you understand why the earth can only handle so much. It’s critical to have our parks, because they are monitored—watched by people.
That’s where our wild is.

LH: What practices or habits can people adopt or change to make the world a better place for critters and humans?
JH: The president of Rwanda outlawed plastics about 10 years ago. You don’t see a piece of plastic anywhere or a piece of paper on the ground. When you see what I’ve seen at the South Pole right now and Antarctica, you see all this plastic, and no one lives there. Why is it there? Because that’s the way the oceans run, the way the earth is. You have a picnic on the beach and let the plastic blow away, it looks just like a jellyfish to a sea turtle. You have to educate people first. You have to show them the inside of a sea turtle with a plastic bag sticking out.

You have pelicans where you live. In central Florida, a guy found a pelican that probably weighed less than a pound, hanging from a tree by a fishing line—nothing but feathers and bone. We took it down, put it in a rehab center in Jupiter [Florida], and he’s still alive today. We use him for shows. I’m not anti-fishing, by the way. But the thing is, you can’t just cut your line and throw it down.

My wife is into recycling. When we go to the beach, she’ll take a bag and pick up everything there is. We do that every single time we go to the beach. Wouldn’t it be neat if everyone would take half an hour and pick up bottle caps, plastic bags and other trash that might be harmful to an animal?

I’ve also seen the “wild” shrink. Virtually all animals are experiencing some sort of challenge. Animal advocates need financial support from people like you and me to continue their important work.
So, what can you do? You can do a heck of a lot!

LH: What is your topic for the fundraiser here in South Carolina?
JH: Whenever I speak, I have very few notes. I speak to the heart. I will tour the whole place prior to my speech, and I’m sure, at that point, half of my speech will change.

LH: Are you bringing animals?
JH: Yes, we are. And these are not just animals I take out for speeches and television appearances. They are ambassadors to their cousins in the wilds and are cared for by professionals. They are part of the breeding program. Sometimes we take a leopard, sometimes a sloth, a penguin. I do it every time, because that’s what really wakes you up. Right now, the zoological visitation is one of the biggest recreational activities in the entire country. Everybody leaves a zoo talking about it. They have to see something to learn about something and try to save something.

LH: What have you learned about yourself from working with animals?
JH: They’ve taught me many things, but I knew from the time I was 11-16 years old I wanted to be a zookeeper. People made fun of me back in the 1960s when I said that. I lived my dream, and I encourage young people to do that.

Learn more about Jack Hanna and his life’s work at jackhanna.com.

About Port Royal Sound Foundation
Port Royal Sound Foundation, a 501©3 nonprofit, is dedicated to the betterment and conservation of the waters and lands of our unique salt marsh ecosystem that is the Port Royal Sound estuary system. Their mission is to advance the awareness of Port Royal Sound and its contributions to the environmental, cultural and economic well-being of our area, the region and the Atlantic Ocean. The Maritime Center opened November 1, 2014 as a doorway to education and discovery; it is located at 310 Okatie Hwy., Okatie, S.C. To learn more about their programs, to book a field trip, volunteer, or make a donation, visit online at prsfoundation.info or call Alicia Taylor at (843) 645) 7774.

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