Jack Hanna is a well-known TV personality and conservationist. His segments on The Late Show with David Letterman were not only full of hilarious and unpredictable animal antics, but it began a new direction in how America connected with animals in the early 1980’s. One thing hasn’t changed since his segments, Jack Hanna always presents animals as ambassadors of their wild cousins and educates why it is important to protect the species. He continues to do what he loves and returned again for Wild Days at SeaWorld Orlando.
One thing is clear, Jack supports SeaWorld and the work they do with the resulting in 27,000 animals rescued and rehabilitated over the past 50 years. “SeaWorld spent 12.5 million dollars last year putting animals back into the wild,” said Hanna. He commends the top-notch animal care, vet, and training teams that care for the thousands of animals at SeaWorld day in and day out. He also talked about Dawn Brancheau’s legacy and how she is looking down on SeaWorld. “Her life was this park and she is still up there helping the whales,” said Hanna. Dawn’s mother has attended all of Jack Hanna’s shows at SeaWorld Orlando since her daughter’s death and the release of the documentary inaccurately portraying SeaWorld’s killer whale program. Many have defended SeaWorld since the release of the film, and SeaWorld has never waivered in its mission to provide excellent care for the animals in its care and to rescue, rehabilitate, and release injured marine wildlife. “I will sit here until the day I die defending theses parks”. Hanna stated, “ and this place is on its way”.
“All of these people that you see work at SeaWorld and the Columbus Zoo dedicate their life to these creatures everybody. You might see what you see on that terrible documentary, but let me tell you something, this is their life, this is just something that they do to get paid for. They love these animals like they are family. ”
Jack Hanna introduced the audience to some unique animals and told some amazing stories. He described on going efforts towards conservation, research and animal care. The animals presented in his show were from three different collections: SeaWorld, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, and Joe Slaven’s Professional Animals. Jack spoke highly about the work that Joe Slaven has done in conjunction with SeaWorld and the development of the ‘Pet’s Ahoy’ show at SeaWorld Orlando. Jack discussed how Joe Slaven has rescued thousands of dogs and cats while working at SeaWorld over the last 15 years. “Did you ever hear about that, no, of course you don’t hear about that because it’s good. It seams that the way our media and our world is today everything is negative,” said Hanna.
Of the many animals Jack Hanna presented, some of the animals highlighted were threatened or endangered. Some have made headlines while others have no mention by media outlets. One of these animals covered by the media was the Palm Civet . This is the animal thought to be responsible for the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in 2003. The palm civet is a consumption animal in Asia. Many people contracted the SARS virus from eating the undercooked meat. Palm civets are Asian animals that are nocturnal predators. They are omnivores that predominantly feed on rats, birds, and fruits, although they have been known to eat mollusks, arthropods, and occasionally snakes and frogs. They have a defense mechanism similar to the skunk and spray an anal gland secretion to deter a predator. The major threat for the palm civet continues to be habitat loss and hunting for bush meat. While the population densities have been reduced and the animal appears to be threatened in some areas, the animal is listed as least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Jack Hanna presented a very unique animal, the Binturong, known as the ‘Bearcat’. It is also a mammal that lives in dense forests of southeast Asia. It has a strong prehensile tail and vibrissae that help them survive in the forests. The binturong is on the IUCN vulnerable list due to declining populations. The population has declined by 30% over the last thirty years. Habitat loss from logging and the conversion of forests to non-forest land use such as farming has lead to the steady population decline. The wildlife trade has also had detrimental effects on the population and the animal is also taken for human consumption as a delicacy. Some are even kept as pets. Unfortunately, many people have not had a chance to even see a binturong, let alone even know what it is. They are common in zoos and these zoos have been working on maintaining genetic diversity for long-term conservation projects. Most of this work was done first to identify the genetic profile of the animals in zoological care because typically the animals that are in zoological care have an unknown geographical origin or are offspring from several generations of captive-bred animals.
The Iberian Lynx is an endangered species that lives in colder climates and is well adapted for snow. It uses it entire back feet as snowshoes. They have white spots on the back of their ears known as ‘eyespots’ that help protect them from predators. Most people will never see them in the wild. While they are no longer hunted for their coats since hunting was made illegal, the populations have continued to decline. Human encroachment from urbanization and has resulted in population decline. The Iberian lynx has been forced to live at higher altitudes where their main source prey does not live resulting in many animals starving. The population has also declined as a result of two diseases (myxomatosis and hemorrhagic disease). The loss of the Iberian lynx will be the first feline species to become extinct since prehistoric times. Luckily zoos have stepped in and through breeding programs, habitat restoration, and education, the Iberian lynx has recently moved form critically endangered to endangered on the IUCN list. While this is a step in the right direction, there is more to be done in order to save this species from the brink of extinction.
Like the former IUCN classification of the Iberian lynx, The Amur Leopard is critically endangered. They live in Asia at high altitudes. There are only 70-100 left in the world today which is an improvement on the estimated 19-16 wild animals in 2007. “In the zoological world we have somewhere between 300-500 of them. You can thank SeaWorld and all the zoos in the country like Bush Gardens and all these parks,” stated Jack Hanna. These magnificent animals are hunted for their coats and they have scrummed to loss of habitat from deforestation and human encroachment from urbanization. This has resulted in the loss of genetic diversity because when population numbers drop this low, inbreeding become a huge concern. This leads to a phenomenon known as genetic degeneration, which can result in congenital abnormalities and have a huge impact on the health of the animal.
Photo by Chris Shuck
The two-toed sloth is an amazing and unique animal. It spends majority of its life upside-down. It is born, eats, sleeps, and breeds upside-down. Sloths are the slowest moving land mammal and only come down from trees once a week to use the bathroom. They are often hard to see because they are covered in algae and blend into their environment. In prehistoric times, the first sloth weighed 1,000 pounds. Today sloths are much smaller. Their biggest threat is deforestation, but luckily there are rescue groups working to protect the sloth in places like the Panama rainforest. Jack talked about bringing a sloth on Letterman. Hanna said, “David Letterman asked ‘What is that?’ and I told them that it was a two-toed sloth and that there was also a three-toed sloth. David asked ‘What’s the difference?’, I said ‘One toe, you idiot.’”
Jack shared the perfect example of how when you touch a heart, you teach the mind. The bald eagle is a success story. Bald eagles are powerful animals that are also graceful in the skies. They have talons that can crush prey at 1,000psi. Bold eagles mate for life and largest bald eagle nest recorded was the size of a Volkswagen in Maitland Florida. Our National bird once was destined for extinction. The bald eagle was originally placed under the Endangered Species act because the population declined drastically from habitat loss, lack of prey due to overhunting, lack of education as bald eagles were shot because they were thought to threaten livestock, and shell deformities from DDT exposure that caused eggs to have thin shells and often crack before the chicks were ready to hatch. Scientists, conservationists, and government officials worked to raise awareness and taught the public that if we don’t take steps to protect these birds, the national bird could be lost forever. Under the Endangered Species Act killing bold eagles became illegal and nests were protected. Water quality was improved in lakes and rivers with the help of banning DDT. There was a lot of conservation work done to restore the bald habitat and reintroduce them to areas where they had been eliminated. All of these efforts and an educated public led to the removal of the bald eagle from the endangered species list. One of the driving forces to this success story was that the American heart was touched by these birds and what it meant if they were lost, so that the American minds could be educated on how to prevent their demise and how we all could do our part to protect them.
photo by Chris Shuck
Another one of the most powerful animals on the planet is known for its speed. The Cheetah has been clocked going from 0-50mph in 3 seconds. It’s body design allows it to turn sharp corners while its tail helps it to keep its balance. While these animas are both beautiful and powerful, they are also vulnerable and fragile. Approximately 95% of all cheetahs born never make it past one year old. The Egyptians used the Cheetah as a hunting tool. The black markings under their eye help to focus the light away from their eye, an adaptation needed for a powerful daytime hunter. Cheetah populations have shrunk drastically from 100,000 ten years ago to only about 12,500 today. “The Columbus Zoo has one of the largest cheetah collections in the world. And what we are doing here is the research like the people at SeaWorld do with the killer whale”, said Hanna. “The cheetah was declared the most endangered cat on the continent of Africa. We never thought that that would happen. The Leopard was, but it has been moved off the endangered species list and the Cheetah has been put on. So, you see what I am talking about. You see what would happen if the Columbus zoo wasn’t there to do the research with the Cheetah. There would be no cheetah in ten years. Its that simple everybody. Just because this is a cheetah, or a whale, or a worm – I may be getting a little radical on the worm, but you see why we’re here. We’re here to touch the heart to teach the mind.” Loss of habitat and human encroachment has lead to the population decline. Additionally, the decline in prey availability and conflict with ranchers has further reduced the population.
Photo by Chris Shuck
One of the reasons for the population decline is that ranchers protecting their livestock are killing them. In the 1980’s Namibia was hit hard by a drought that reduced the availability of the cheetahs prey. Hungry and looking for food, the cheetah populations turned to livestock to survive. One of the greatest hopes for the Cheetah population is the Anatolian Shepard. In Namibia, the Cheetah Conservation Fund are working with a revolutionary Anatolian Shepherd Livestock Guarding Dog program to save the Cheetah. Cheetahs are not normally aggressive in the way lions are so the idea is that the Anatolian’s bark is enough to scare a cheetah into retreat and away from a heard of livestock. The dogs can defend the heard from other animals as well like baboons, jackals, caracals, leopards, and even humans. Through education and the implementation of this program, history may show that the Anatolian Shepard saved the cheetah from extinction.
Photo by Chris Shuck
Some people may criticize zoos because they don’t truly understand what opportunities they provide. Zoos contain a catalog of species and species diversity that can be used to repopulate areas once their habitat has been restored and people have been educated on how to protect them. They provide research and breeding programs to ensure species won’t go extinct. Some critics think that zoos take animals out of the wild. Most animals are either bred in zoos, or genetic material is collected from a wild animal to increase genetic diversity among the zoo populations. “People are saying: ‘Oh my gosh, Jack is going to Africa to get another lion.’ No, everybody. I don’t need to go and get another lion. I can send my veterinarian there to collect sperm and the eggs. I don’t care what animal it is out there.” Said Jack Hanna. “What does SeaWorld do? – First people in the world to ever artificially inseminate a killer whale. Now, you may say big deal, but big deal is very simple the oceans are beautiful and there are areas where the killer whale is losing its life. The point is that they will come running to SeaWorld because these are the people in the world that have the research and the number of years of experience that work with these animals and that is why I am passionate about these parks. We will someday be putting these animals back in the wild and that is why SeaWorld is continuing the beautiful program that they have here, but right now we are talking about education but that is what it is to touch the heart to teach the mind.”
It is clear that one way to protect a species is to touch peoples hearts about these species so that their minds can be touched to help save these species. That is one role that zoos and aquariums play. The reality is that zoos and aquariums are not here to be solely entertainment spots, but rather a place where you can connect with and experience animals first hand. Your heart can be touched in a way that will help you to understand what you can do to help. It is a way of providing education in a fun and impactful way and sometimes in such a way that you don’t even realize that you’re learning. Zoo professionals do their jobs because they have passion for the animals that they care for, a passion for conservation, and a passion for helping guests connect and become educated on these animals and ways to help preserve them for the next generation. “All of these people that you see work at SeaWorld and the Columbus Zoo dedicate their life to these creatures everybody. You might see what you see on that terrible documentary, but let me tell you something,” said Hanna. “This is their life, this is just something that they do to get paid for. They love these animals like they are family. I wish I could come back here when I retire someday and be an animal.” Zoos provide an intangible service to our planet, one that will help to preserve species and not let them perish as we destroy our planet. Get connected; have your heart touched by an animal interaction or a conservation success story. Put down the video game, tablet, computer, and even cell phone and get immersed in our spectacular world and the animals that live in it. Find out what you can do to help save these animals because at the end of the day if it doesn’t touch your heart, then it can’t teach your mind, then you won’t want to make a difference and we will continue to loose species ultimately by the destruction of man. There is a saying that ‘we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children’. I encourage you to get involved and be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem. Support your local zoos and aquariums and stand with us at Zoo Nation.