'Jungle Jack' Wows Audience
It was a zoo at Pinecrest High School Wednesday night.
Jack "Jungle Jack" Hanna -- of "Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures" TV show fame -- brought his "Into the Wild" show to a nearly full Robert E. Lee auditorium, complete with a myriad of creatures that walk, fly, and yes, slither.
Hanna, a fixture on "The Late Show with David Letterman," directs the Columbus Zoo in Ohio and is one of the world's most beloved conservationists.
The show was the second installment of this season's Ruth Pauley Lecture Series, and series organizer Garrison Southard said the program was a departure from the kinds of speakers the series usually invites.
"This is the first lecture in memory where we've had so many young people," he said.
Not to mention so many critters.
The crowd did run across the age spectrum, so audience feedback was divided along generational lines. When longtime Hanna friend and lecture series board member Bob Johnston made a joke about Reconstruction, gray heads bobbed in laughter while the little ones' faces were blank. But when Hanna showed a "bloopers" video, which included some animal bathroom humor and a groin-kicking episode, the kids were howling.
Hanna started the show off by offering some folksy, feel-good advice for the under-12 set:
"I was raised on a farm in Knoxville, Tenn., and we lived by three words: Hard work and enthusiasm," he said. "You kids can dream whatever you want to. If you love what you do, you'll succeed at it."
A Friend of Irwin's
It was the show's main attraction, however, that seemed to bring all ages together: the animals.
Hanna's assistants from the Columbus Zoo brought out one exotic creature after another, all to collective gasps and rabid picture-taking.
Animals included two pythons, two alligators, penguins, a bearcat, a vulture, and a three-banded armadillo. Hanna would share a few basic facts about the animals -- place of origin, population, life expectancy -- and then include some fun trivia for the crowd.
Of the bearcat, Hanna claimed "This animal smells exactly like popcorn." And Hanna said that after David Letterman asked him if the great horned owl could turn its head all the way around, Hanna replied "No, Dave, then his head would fall off."
Hanna interrupted the animal presentations with a series of conservation-focused videos, ranging in subjects from a North American bear cub in to a black rhino in Kenya.
Hanna's passion is conservation -- a love he shared with his friend, the late Steve Irwin, whose TV program "The Crocodile Hunter" put him in the international spotlight. Irwin died this past summer after a freak incident involving a stingray.
"The guy was phenomenal," Hanna said of Irwin. "He gave his life to conservation."
Hanna is no stranger to close calls with the animals. He said he almost died from hepatitis he'd gotten from chimpanzees at his zoo. When he brought out the pythons, he said he'd almost lost a hand about 20 years ago after an anaconda bit it.
Some audience members had their own survivor stories to tell after the show.
"I touched the snake's tail and he slapped me in the face with it," said 7-year-old Katie Sue Garrison, who was standing close to the stage during the program. And how did Katie Sue's mom feel about this?
"I thought it was funny," Sarah Garrison said.
The youngest Garrison, a cowboy-booted 4-year-old named Chet, said he thought the animals definitely were the coolest part of the night.
"I liked the cwocodile," he said. "I like the big fwog. I like finding fwogs."
Hanna's longtime fans also turned out. Sue Kress moved to Moore County from Columbus, Ohio, about seven years ago. She said Hanna completely turned the Columbus Zoo around.
"He was great for Columbus," she said. "He hasn't changed any since the first time he came to Columbus." Kress' husband, George, said he'd seen Hanna a few time at local restaurants.
Both Kresses agreed that Hanna's show isn't just for the kids.
"He's an ambassador for all ages," Sue Kress said.
You can contact Katherine Evans at (910) 693-2480.
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