During Spring break, world famous “Jungle Jack” Hanna visited SeaWorld San Antonio to educate visitors about the need for conservation and zoos in today’s world. A proud SeaWorld supporter, he has used his position to advocate awareness of SeaWorld’s and other zoo’s impact on the wild, through real and amazing experiences.
The Columbus zoo hosts an incredible array of animals, animals that are very different from those one sees at SeaWorld. First off, the audience meets a serval cub. Although the cat appears full grown, it is still a young kit. Humans hold an innate curiosity in wild cats, with their incredible hunting skills and beautiful coloration. In fact, servals are the only cat able to leap 6 feet into the air, capable of snatching birds out of midair!
SeaWorld is also a home for several exotic land animals, such as the red ruffed and the black and white ruffed lemur. These animals are native to Madagascar, and as a black and white ruffed lemur patrols down the center aisle, the audience learns the peril plaguing the lemur’s natural environment. Deforestation has decreased their habitat, as well as limited their food supply. Unfortunately, wild lemurs have only 10% of Madagascar left to live on; and Hanna muses that one day, the only lemurs left might be the ones in zoos.
Hanna then introduces several more animals: the black footed penguin, a 2-toed sloth, as well as a bear cat and a baby kangaroo. He recalls past memories involving these animals, such as the story when one of the zoo’s penguins visited the red carpet with Robin Williams for the premiere of the movie “Happy Feet.” The penguin, of course, stole the spot light because who doesn’t love penguins? The black footed penguin was perfectly ok in the Texas heat, because it was one of the many species of penguin that actually live in warm climates. Hanna jokes that if asked in a game of Jeopardy, “How many species of penguins live in cold climates?” The answer would shock you, it’s 4! He then moves on to one of the most popular animals, the two toed sloth. Audible coos can be heard from the crowd, as many people comment that they would love to be able to interact with a sloth. Hanna explains that when he was exploring the jungles of South America, he could never find them. Why? Because they grow algae and moss on their fur as a form of camouflage. But do not be swayed by their cute appearance; the sloth is capable of behaving aggressively, and should be respected like all animals. Later, he introduces the bearcat, an omnivore native to the jungles of South America. Their tail is a prehensile tail, meaning they use them as a 5th limb. He points out the relationship between the animal and her keeper, given the tail is so strong it can choke a human in seconds. After that, a caregiver brings a blue bundle onto the stage, and from within out pops a joey’s head. Hanna goes on to discuss the incredible adaptation of the kangaroo, how at birth, when they’re no bigger than a jelly bean, they know to crawl into their mother’s pouch to develop until they’re big enough to hop out.
SeaWorld also brings out some of their own animal ambassadors, including Mellow Yellow, an ‘albino’ Burmese python. Several lucky kids are invited on stage to meet this incredible animal, and discover that they are not to be feared. However, they should be concerned about them, and their ever increasing numbers in the Everglades. In addition, Star the bald eagle makes an appearance, reminding the audience of America’s natural beauty that has been forgotten by many. There is still wilderness to explore, and Star’s brethren still fly out there, causing one to remember their role in conservation.
Lastly, Hanna introduces 3 cheetah cubs, one of the most threatened wild cats out there. Although their population is somewhat stable, their fragile build continues to be their biggest threat, as missing prey while running at a top speed of 70 mph can lead to days of exhaustion, and even if they capture something, they might be too weak to defend it against lions and hyenas. As cubs, they are even more delicate, as their mothers might be so desperate, they will eat their own young. The cheetahs introduced will serve as animal ambassadors for their species, educating the public about their perils, strengths, and the role they play in their environment.
Many have criticized Jack Hanna as well as his zoo and those he supports. These are the same people who believe that animals should not be in any contact with humans. They lie, looking for any chance to defame him without considering the facts. Hanna’s credibility is established through his decades of working with animals, how they have influenced him, and how seeing people react to meeting them has inspired him and others. He shares a touching story about how seeing a killer whale at SeaWorld Orlando moved him, and wishes for the rest of society to experience what he experienced that day. Ultimately, he believes that zoos play an integral role in society to connect people with the environment, and inspire them to defend it.