Animal expert Jack Hanna brings animals, show to Whitewater

Comments Comments Print Print
Anna Marie Lux
Saturday, March 22, 2014

WHITEWATER—Animal expert Jack Hanna knows how to disappear into the wild.

The director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium packed earlier this month for Rwanda where he is spending quiet time with a band of mountain gorillas.

“I like to hike and sit with them,” Hanna said before leaving. “I've been visiting with them since 1982.”

Soon after he returns from his African adventure, Hanna and a band of exotic animals will visit Whitewater for a safari of a different kind.

On April 7, he might bring a cheetah, a penguin or an armadillo. For sure, he'll bring film of his recent encounter with the gorillas. He also might have a palm civet in tow. The small catlike creature with course hair and big eyes is found from the Himalayas and southern China to the Indonesian islands.

Hanna will not only show animals that most people never see in the wild, but he also will explain why they are in need of our attention. He brings a message of conservation and how citizens can help.

The visit will be Hanna's second to Whitewater.

“He and his crew were a pleasure to work with when they were last here in 2010,” said Tami Brodnicki, executive director of Downtown Whitewater. The nonprofit group is sponsoring the visit, which will raise money to revitalize the downtown.

The last show raised funds for new bike racks and Christmas decorations.

“We want people to walk downtown and enjoy themselves as families,” Brodnicki said. “We are looking into using the money for more benches or historically renovating buildings. We don't know yet.”

A friend of famous gorilla-expert Dian Fossey, Hanna treasures his time with the endangered animals. Fewer than 900 remain in the world. He knows that most people on the planet will never see a mountain gorilla in the wild.

“I wish everyone could do what I do,” he said. “I try to bring back the experience in a way so others can enjoy it.”

Many people are used to seeing the lowland gorilla, which is in zoos all over the planet. But the best place to see the mountain gorilla is in its natural habitat in the Virunga Mountains of central Africa at the intersection of Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo. The mountain gorilla is bigger than the lowland gorilla and has longer hair because it lives at high altitudes.

“Can you imagine sitting within a few feet of a family of mountain gorillas,” Hanna asks. “I've seen how they sit together and groom each other, and how they protect each other.”

He cannot forget a mother gorilla who carried her dead infant around for weeks.

Unlike the image portrayed in King Kong, mountain gorillas are “truly gentle giants,” Hanna said. “They hardly ever show aggression.”

He worries about the future of the animals, who spend much of their days foraging on bamboo and wild celery. To make a difference, he serves on the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, which operates the world's most important center for studying the mountain gorilla.

Beginning in the 1980s, Hanna made TV appearances with zoo animals and became nationally known. Many have followed in his television footsteps to promote animal awareness, including the late Steve Irwin.

Hanna is passionate about introducing wild animals to the public.

“First, you have to touch peoples' hearts,” he said. “Then, you have to teach their minds. If you don't do that, none of these animals will be saved. People have to love something to want to save it.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com

Comments Comments Print Print