'Jungle Jack' coming to the Plains: Hanna speaks to The Forum ahead of Red River Zoo fundraiser
FARGO - "Jungle Jack" Hanna says a zoo's success doesn't depend on its animals, but rather on how they're presented to the public.
FARGO – "Jungle Jack" Hanna says a zoo's success doesn't depend on its animals, but rather on how they're presented to the public.
He should know. After taking over the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo in the late 1970s, the Tennessee native transitioned the zoo from cage-like enclosures to more natural habitats and eventually increased its annual attendance by over 400 percent. Now it's the biggest in North America.
But he says small zoos can be successful, too, with community support and the right staff. On Thursday, he plans to make a first-time visit to Fargo's own small zoo, the 33-acre Red River Zoo, and present at its annual ZOOlebration gala fundraiser that night.
Although Hanna, 68, has plenty of experience traveling with animals after making more than 100 appearances on "The Late Show With David Letterman," he will not be bringing animals from the Columbus Zoo or elsewhere to the Plains. He will, however, share insights from his lifetime of traveling the world for exploration, education and conservation efforts.
Before heading to North Dakota, he spoke to The Forum from the Columbus Zoo, where he's been the director emeritus since 1992.
On what makes a zoo successful: The Columbus Zoo is successful because it's a fun place to come to. You don't tell your family, "We're going to learn the Latin words for animals." You tell your family, "Hey, we're going to the zoo!"
On why size doesn't matter: The Columbus Zoo is the largest zoo in North America at 600 acres. But the Fort Wayne, Ind., zoo is one of the top 10 in the country, I think, and they're only on 30 or 40 acres.
On working with what you have: Some people might not be able to have a multimillion-dollar habitat, but you can still have something enclosed that looks pleasant. Work with what you have.
On the importance of staff: The zookeepers, the docents and the staff are very important. The animals can't talk, so you have to "talk" for them.
On teaching the public: We have a saying here at the Columbus Zoo: "Touch the heart to teach the mind." If you can't touch the heart, then you can't teach the mind. That's what we have to do in the animal world.
On community outreach: I'm not saying take a lion out on the streets. Take a snake out, take a bird out, a groundhog, whatever. Kids are fascinated by that. Outreach programs help a great deal.
On habitat loss: Animals don't understand human boundaries. Some are being pushed into certain areas, like the snow leopard, which is being pushed higher and higher up in the mountains where there's nothing to eat.
On species loss: You have animals like the Bengal tiger in India, as an example. We thought there were something like 5,000 left in the world; now there's less than 1,200. I think the Siberian tiger is down to several hundred, and that's because of overpopulation.
On how man has altered the natural food chain: When you see what I've seen, you understand the chain very quickly. We took out a big link in the chain. The chain naturally would have changed, but not at the pace we're at today.
On bringing animals to "Letterman": I don't know why, but I knew deep down in my heart that I wasn't doing anything wrong with the animals. The stress was on us, not the animals, trust me. They had a ball going on the show.
On the "Blackfish" documentary (on the captivity of killer whales): There's no doubt about it - you watch it, it sure is compelling. But is that the Sea World of today? No. Some of the footage they used is 30-40 years old.
On Walter Palmer's killing of Cecil the lion: I'm not anti-hunter. However, that is not hunting what he did, and yes, he should be punished. There's more to the story than what you've heard, and I'll probably talk about it in my speech (at the ZOOlebration).
If you go
What: "ZOOlebration: An Evening With Jack Hanna" fundraiser
When: 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday; VIP reception from 5:30 to 6:30.
Where: Courtyard by Marriott, Moorhead
Info: General admission tickets cost $100, VIP tickets $350, plus fees, and are available at tinyurl.com/o98q7kx. 21 and older.