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It's all about the animals for Jack Hanna

By Autumn D. F. Hopkins
Courtesy photo
Jack Hanna brings the wild indoors with his animal show at the Clay Center Friday. It will feature penguins, cheetahs, reptiles and other animals as well as an assortment of film clips, including one about a baby elephant orphanage.
WANT TO GO? Jack Hanna's "Into the Wild Live" WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday WHERE: Clay Center TICKETS: $20, $25, $30 INFO: 304-561-3570 or CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Growing up on a farm in Tennessee, Jack Hanna always had animals around, so pursuing a life of animal care wasn't much of a stretch."I always knew I wanted to do something with animals," he said. "I am just living my dream."Hanna got his first job at the age of 11, cleaning out cages at his local veterinarian's office part time. When asked if he chose the job because he wanted to be a vet, he replied, "Nah, nah. Well maybe a little."I never did great in school, but I was always good with animals."Hanna and his animals have cut a swath through popular culture for the last 30-plus years. After college, a stint in Vietnam and marriage to his college sweetheart, Suzi Egli, Hanna took a job as a zookeeper in Florida. The family moved several times so he could pursue opportunities with other zoos. Ultimately Hanna found himself at the Columbus Zoo, not based on his career but on the care of his family.In 1978, Hanna's daughter was diagnosed with cancer, and the offer of a job at the Columbus Zoo was fortuitous. The job allowed the family to move closer to the Nationwide Children's Hospital, where his daughter could receive the best care.Hanna never pursued the media spotlight; he was happy working with the animals and making the Columbus Zoo the nation's premier zoo. He and his daughter did a local kids show called "Hanna's Ark" in the Columbus area, but he never thought he would become a household name.Happenstance again intervened in 1983 with the birth of twin gorillas at the zoo. "Good Morning America" came calling and thus was born a 30-year relationship with the morning television staple. Hanna and his animals are the longest running regular guest spot in the show's history.Hanna has also regularly appeared on "The Late Show with David Letterman," "The Maury Povich Show," "Larry King Live," Fox News and countless other TV programs, ensuring him a place in pop culture history.
In his long career, Hanna has worked with all kinds of animals. Don't expect him to choose a favorite to work with, though. When asked that, he began a laundry list that included gorillas, cheetahs, elephants and even insects. "Insects are fascinating you know? They are really amazing," he said.Hanna said he and his team do about 100 live animal shows across the country every year. He said the animals enjoy the excitement and love the attention. They are transported from location to location in special vans and trucks designed for that purpose since they are sometimes on the road for many days.Hanna and his crew will not be in West Virginia long; they arrive early in the morning, set up for a school performance, do the evening show and then pack up and head out for their next show in Virginia. Despite that, Hanna said it is important to him that West Virginia is included on his tours because of the great support the Columbus Zoo receives from the people of this state."There is a tremendous turnout," he said. "Tens of thousands come to the zoo every year. We do this to thank them and to show them what is new at the Columbus Zoo this year."The latest incarnation of Hanna's traveling animal extravaganza, "Jack Hanna's Into the Wild Live," will grace the Clay Center stage at 8 p.m. Friday. Hanna said the audience can expect to see penguins, cheetahs, reptiles and other birds, as well as an assortment of educational clips about things like a baby elephant orphanage and a brand new piece about reptiles.
The show is about an hour and a half and not suitable for children under 3. Hanna warned that the show is a little scary for children so young and that it is necessary for everyone to remain in their seats, which can be difficult for the littlest ones.*****Clay Center Eco PartyPrior to Jack Hanna's show, the Clay Center's Eco Party family fun night runs 5 to 7:30 p.m.For the duration of the event, there's an interactive Earth Fair, where you can learn about going green from a variety of local vendors and the Naturalist Nook, where you can see some of the Clay Center's outdoor finds or bring your own items (no live creatures) to show.From 5 to 7 p.m., you can meet the Clay Center animals and make crafts out of recycled materials.All activities are included in gallery admission of $7.50 for adults and $6 for children. Use the discount code "jungle" to get $4 admission per person.Call 304-561-3570 or visit
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