When the person who tells you that we need to love and appreciate the natural world is also the person who – a few minutes later – lets a ring-tailed lemur crawl up on his head, you tend to give him credibility and take him seriously.
Of course, Jack Hanna isn’t all seriousness, and that’s his appeal.
The celebrated zookeeper thrilled two full crowds in the Aquarium’s IMAX Theater Thursday with his stories, messages and a menagerie of live animals. Hanna’s easy genial manner makes him fun to be around and fun to learn from – sort of the way we hope you feel about The Maritime Aquarium.
Hanna introduced dozens of animals – both common and exotic species – and explained why many are now associated with serious conservation concerns. These included a 15-foot python (turned loose and taken over the Everglades), a big and beautiful Siberian lynx (virtually extinct in the wild now) and that head-climbing lemur (serious loss of habitat in its native Madagascar).
Other exotics included an echidna (one of only two egg-laying mammals), a lesser anteater, a king vulture, and ridiculously cute young wallabies, fennec foxes and servals.
And though a beaver, alligator, red fox and a six-week old black bear may be common in America, they haven’t been seen – or seen so closely – by most in attendance Thursday.
Now the director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo (where has had more than a 30-year affiliation), Hanna expressed how fortunate he has been to live his life dream, travel the world and connect with so many animals. He cheered the superior exhibits and animal-husbandry of modern zoos and aquariums, and asked audience members to appreciate how lucky they are to have The Maritime Aquarium and Beardsley Zoo.
“And what I’m encouraged about is that more than 176 million people came to zoos and aquariums in this country last year,” he said. “That’s more than NASCAR, NFL and all those things.”
With Hanna, there’s always humor, like his stories about being bitten by a beaver and an anaconda, and also his “blooper reel” of funny moments with animals on his own syndicated TV shows and from his appearances on “Late Night with David Letterman.”
“But if there’s one word I want you to take away from tonight, it’s the word love,” he said. “Love for the animal world, love for the fish world, whatever you want to call it. Because when you love something, you try to save it.”
Hanna’s appearance was part of The Maritime Aquarium’s “Global Insights” series, which continues with a visit by Jean-Michel Cousteau on May 20.