MODESTO — After a lifetime spent with animals, "Jungle" Jack Hanna knows seeing is believing and caring.
The Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo in Ohio and frequent talk show staple is known as an America's favorite zookeeper. An ambassador for zoos and wild animals everywhere, Hanna has begun to bring his show on the road, showcasing animals and his experiences in the wild firsthand.
One of this stops will be April 27 at the Gallo Center for the Arts.
Hanna, who still is based out of Columbus, said the road shows that began four years ago are another way to spread the word about animals and conservation.
"This is a matter of educating people about animals. But how do you educate people about animals who have never been to Africa?" said Hanna, from his headquarters in Columbus. "We reach people through TV and our zoo and the show. Unless someone understands how to love something, you cannot save it. And to love something you have to see it."
Hanna has been showing people animals since he became director of his first zoo in 1973. In 1976 he moved from his Florida zoo to Columbus, where he helped build it into one of the premiere zoos in the country.
But it was TV that helped propel the Tennessee native to national and international stardom. It began in 1983 when "Good Morning America" gave him a call and asked him to do a segment. That became a 30-year relationship with the show. And more shows came calling. He has appeared on David Letterman's late-night show since 1985. Was a regular guest with Larry King from 1988 until the talk host retired in 2010. He stops by to chat regularly with Ellen DeGeneres these days as well, always bringing along some of his animal friends for a hands-on experience with wildlife.
Still the spotlight wasn't something Hanna said he ever sought.
"I never started TV. I never sought TV. I still don't seek TV," he said. "We don't have people out pushing me to do a show. But, instead, if something happens in animals, someone calls me. And that's how it has always gone."
Nevertheless, he has parlayed his reluctant TV fame into two of his own syndicated shows as well: "Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures" and "Jack Hanna's Into the Wild."
His live show will be much like his TV appearances. Hanna said in the 90-minute show he shares some of his favorite clips and stories from traveling the world and witnessing animals in the wild over the last 30-plus years. From seeing mountain gorillas in Rwanda to a koala sanctuary in Australia. Hanna has been to Africa more than 40 times and visited each continent at least twice.
He also brings out live animals. Some 14 to 17 animals are featured in each show. The animals change depending on region because they are all on loan from area zoos and organizations so they don't have to undergo the stress of traveling cross country.
"It's a fun show. It's not some show with doom and gloom about the coming to an end," Hanna said. "I tell them about some things that are concerning, but it's positive. It's for age 3 to 100 years old."
Hanna's own interest in animals started as a boy being raised on a farm. He began working for a veterinarian when he was 11, cleaning cages. And it was then he told himself one day he'd be a zookeeper.
"I am the same person I was on the farm. Anyone who knows me knows that," he said.
Through the years Hanna also has helped raise millions of dollars for animal preservation. He said he is happy to champion zoos, and willing to take on animal rights activists who question their effectiveness.
"The sophistication of the zoo world is nothing like the '50s or '60s. Or the '70s. (A zoo) just spent $24 million on a polar bear habitat. It's magnificent," he said. "And last year the zoological world, gave $41 million to animals in the wild. No animal rights group has come close to $41 million to help animals in the wild."
But what Hanna enjoys most, still, is helping people see wild animals themselves be it through TV, zoos or live shows.
"People's faces light up when see a penguin, when they see cheetah," he said. "Nothing compares to seeing them real or studying them. Now you can say, 'Oh my gosh, I've seen an elephant.' "
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: Jack Hanna Into the Wild Live!
WHEN: 7 p.m. April 27
WHERE: Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts
TICKETS: $20 to $50
CALL: (209) 338-2100