Jack Bushnell Hanna was born on January 2, 1947. From the beginning, a life filled with animals and wildlife was destined for Jack, who first began working for his family’s veterinarian at age 11. It is here where Jack learned the ins and outs of working with animals, including cleaning cages, medical procedures, etc… which would prove to be invaluable experiences for him later in his career.
Eventually, Jack became the director of the Central Florida Zoo (the zoo Zach and I volunteered for 6 years). This was a dream job and the first of many dealing with wildlife and conservation on a large scale. It was from 1973-1975 that Jack directed the zoo and during this time, a lot of work was needed, including improving animal exhibits and bringing more visitors in. Even today, the Central Florida Zoo still remains what many would call a “small zoo”, when compared to the Miami Metro Zoo, Animal Kingdom, National Zoo, etc… However, through the years, Jack’s dream lives on and the Central Florida Zoo has grown, adding educational programs, new animals, encounters, and events that make a visit essential for all animal lovers.
Next for Jack was the Columbus Zoo, where, he was made director in 1978. During these early years as director, significant improvements were made for both the animals directly and the zoo as a whole. Exhibits were made to look like wild habitats for the benefit of the zoo guests, but more importantly, for the benefit of the animals. Jack also made a goal of providing visitors with exciting, educational events, which served to increase attendance dramatically. The benefits of his leadership can be seen today, as the Columbus Zoo is one of the premier zoological institutions in the world.
Finally, it is his appearance on the news, late night TV, and wildlife documentaries, which Jack is best known for. Jack Hanna was among the first wildlife educators to capture the attention of millions and in turn, get people excited for wildlife and conservation. His shows, including Animal Adventures, Into the Wild, and Wild Countdown have been extremely successful in reaching everyone from children to adults. Through each of the series, viewers can see wild crocodiles in Australia, tour the best zoos in the US, or join an Anti-poaching patrol in Africa with countless other experiences and adventures in between.
When one can teach people why wildlife is important and at the same time create a love for animals on a small scale, even with just one person, it is special. However, when one rises to share this love of conservation and wildlife with millions, it is nothing short of amazing. Jack Hanna has inspired many to do something for wildlife; it is safe to say a majority of people working in zoos or the conservation field have seen his shows and loved them. Jack is one of my original inspirations and one of the reasons I care so much about wildlife today. So go out there and share your love of wildlife as Jack has, and the world, with all the animals in it, will be a better place!