While filming in Panama for a new season of "Into the Wild" last month -- Jack Hanna donned traditional dress with an Embera tribal member in the Tusipono Village, came across a friendly family of capuchin monkeys during a boat ride along the Panama Canal, kayaked into a bat cave and ventured off the coast to Isla Iguana to see a frigate bird colony.
It's all in a day's work for this adventurer.
"I ziplined about 1,000 feet over a waterfall. That was exciting," Hanna told the Citizen a few days after he returned from Central America.
Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and TV show host, will share his adventure stories along with some of the creatures he's met along the way with visitors to the IMAX Theater Maritime Aquarium on March 14.
His visit is part of the aquarium's Global Insights series, which is designed to offer a better understanding of the world through the experiences of today's best environmentalists and adventurers.
After signing autographs before the show, Hanna will alternate between showing video clips from his globetrotting and introducing the audience to some live animals -- which will likely include a leopard from Malaysia, a serval cat from East Africa, a flamingo and a wallaby.
"One of the video clips is of my family going up to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda. They are one of the most endangered animals in the world," Hanna said. "There are only about 700 left in the world. They aren't like the lowland gorillas you see in zoos. There are no mountain gorillas in zoos because they can't live in a zoological environment."
There will also be a clip of an encounter with a baby bear and its mom that he found in a cave in New Mexico about 15 years ago and one featuring an elephant orphanage in East Africa, where babies of elephants who have been poached are raised.
"People will be able to see what I do and then see in living color some of the animals from those areas around the world," Hanna said.
Hanna was quick to point out it will be an entertaining show that will appeal to everyone.
"There will be some serious parts to it. But it will be a fun show, number one," he said. "It's not going to be pessimistic about the world coming to an end because of all the problems. I try and teach people in a fun way, in a way that they can understand."
Hanna's fun, casual, hands-on approach to educating people across the nation about animals -- he's been called "every person's TV zoologist"--has led to regular appearances on "Good Morning America" and "The Late Show with David Letterman." He was first invited to appear on Good Morning America in 1983 when he was director of the Columbus Zoo following the birth of baby twin gorillas there. Two years later he appeared on "The Late Show with David Letterman."
His media appearances began taking up so much time that he could no longer manage the day-to-day matters at the Columbus Zoo and in 1992, he became director emeritus.
During his time as director, Hanna's improvements to exhibits and educational programs helped to transform the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium into a state-of-the-art park.
Hanna said he is particularly proud that the zoo is home to four generations of gorillas. He is also proud that it is noted for rehabbing manatee and for the addition of the Wilds-- a private, nonprofit safari park and conservation center that is home to rare and endangered species from around the globe living in natural, open-range habitats.
After he was named director emeritus, Hanna became the host of "Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures," a nationally syndicated television series, in 1993. He started a new TV series, "Jack Hanna's Into the Wild," an unscripted action-packed series, in October 2007. His newest TV show, "Jack Hanna's Wild Countdown," airs on Saturday mornings around the country.
"People ask me, `Why do I do all this?' `How did I get here.' I am still the same person I was in Tennessee growing up on the farm," Hanna said. "I never guessed I would become a TV star."
He did however, dream of being a zookeeper and traveling around the world to see animals.
In addition to growing up with animals on the family farm, Hanna got a job working with animals when he was just 11. He began working for his family veterinarian, Dr. Warren Roberts, who also happened to be the vet for the Knoxville Zoo. He didn't mind cleaning cages at the veterinary clinic because he got to be around animals, and as he got older Roberts let Hanna accompany him on calls at the zoo.
"I'm living two dreams. I'm living my dream of being a zookeeper. But I also dreamed about traveling the world and seeing animals. Marlin Perkins, the host of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, was a hero of mine," Hanna said.
Hanna, who has three children of his own and has been married to his wife Suzi for 45 years, will tell kids who come to see him at the aquarium to live their dream as well, whatever it may be.
"The point is if someone wants to open a gas station, be a doctor, a teacher, a zookeeper. If they dream to do that, then they ought to do it," he said. "You have to do what my dad told me. Put in hard work but also be enthusiastic. You have to not only work hard but love what you do. You don't just appear on TV and take care of a bunch of animals. That's not how it works. I've worked hard and I've loved every minute of my job."
The animal adventures will begin at 4 and 8 p.m. in the Aquarium's IMAX Theater. Tickets are $45 ($40 for Aquarium members). Reserve tickets online at www.maritimeaquarium.org or by calling 203-852-0700, ext. 2206.