You know Jack Hanna from his almost constant appearances on national television. His knowledge of animals is almost equal to his love for them. In addition, Jack’s obvious good nature and grateful spirit have endeared him to millions of families around the world. Personally, I have known Jack for 26 years and in all that time I have not found an ounce of pretense in the man. In real life, Jack is the same “amazed at everything” awesome guy you see on TV. Curiously, Jack and I can go long stretches of time without talking, but when we get together, it’s like we see each other every day. Here is a tiny portion of the nearly hour-long conversation we had recently!
ANDY ANDREWS: Hey, Jack! I’m curious … as your life and career have progressed, how do you classify yourself? What do you say you are?
JACK HANNA: First of all, not as a celebrity. I’ve never sought that. Obviously though, as long as you and I have known each other, with all these TV shows I do, things have changed in my life. But I don’t have agents. I make all my own decisions. Hmmm… I would say that I am an ambassador to the animal world. Or maybe an ambassador to the people and animal world.
ANDY: That’s good. Knowing you, and a bit about your mind and heart, I think that’s an extremely accurate representation of who you are.
JACK: I suppose I’d say that I’m an ambassador to people and animals because I kind of think whatever happens to the animals will eventually happen to us.
ANDY: I’ve never really considered that …
JACK: That said, however, don’t get me wrong — I’m not a “tree hugger.” I eat hamburgers. I wear leather shoes. I’m a normal person. I’m not anti-hunting. I am into good conservation, and hunters are the best conservationists in the world.
ANDY: I have to say, from someone of your stature who is so identi ed with animals, it is refreshing to hear you say that.
JACK: Well, it’s true. Animals are my passion. They are my life’s work. If you care about animals, you have to care about good conservation. If you care about good conservation, you need to understand where the best conservation practices are coming from and that’s the hunting community. Hunters also — by far — carry out the largest part of our world’s conservation e orts, nancially and otherwise. Personally, I don’t hunt, but I want the best for animals. (Long pause) Am I jumping around? You know I have AT&T or HD or AT&ADHD or something …
ANDY: (Laughing) Maybe that’s why you and I get along …
JACK: Anyway, I know the Lord blessed me with a love for animals and an understanding of them. In 1969, I graduated from college and started zookeeping in Knoxville, Tennessee, and then just worked my way up to everything else — to being the CEO and Director of the largest zoo in North America, the Columbus Zoo in Columbus, Ohio. When I went there, the total attendance in a year was just over 180,000. This year, we had 500,000 visitors in June alone.
ANDY: Good grief!
JACK: Yeah, it all started years ago with “Good Morning America” and the twin gorillas. Patty Neger came to film at the zoo, and then they invited me to be on the show. I took a pelican and … well, heck, maybe I took a gerbil. I can’t remember what I took, but everything progressed from there.
ANDY: Jack, if you could have a phone conversation with your 18-year-old self, what advice would you give?
JACK: Probably the same advice my dad gave me working on the farm: hard work and enthusiasm. I tell people that today in the lectures I do. Hard work and enthusiasm. What’s that mean? My dad used to tell me, “Jack, you can work hard now or you will work hard the rest of your life.”
ANDY: Great advice.
JACK: Yeah, I’m fortunate. I know that working, for me, now, is mainly a lot of talking. I’ve always been able to talk. You know, I’ll talk to a stick on the street.
[We didn’t hang up the phone. I’m not exactly a “stick on the street” but Jack talked for another 30 minutes. Jack Hanna truly is one of my favorite people on earth!]