A walk on the wild side

TV personality Jack Hanna will entertain at Maryland Theatre

TV personality Jack Hanna will entertain at Maryland Theatre

March 20, 2009|BY JULIE E. GREENE

In the late 1980s, while walking to the set for an appearance on NBC's "Late Night with David Letterman," Jack Hanna led a camel off a freight elevator and into a hallway. But the hall had a lower ceiling than the elevator.

As Hanna led the animal down the hall, the camel knocked out the drop-ceiling panels one by one in its path.

It's these kind of moments, and the allure of the animals Hanna brings on popular TV news and talk shows that have made Hanna a widely recognized figure and a regular on Letterman's show.

Hanna will bring several animals with him to The Maryland Theatre for a show on Sunday, March 29. The show also will include video clips about various animals and a blooper reel.


Animals he is likely to bring to the theater include a cheetah cub, a sloth, a penguin, a flamingo, a bearcat, a joey, an armadillo, a hyacinth macaw and a python. The list had not been finalized.

Hanna will meet fans in the lobby, signing autographs and posing for pictures either before or after the 3 p.m. show. Doors will open at 2 p.m. for the show.

Hanna appeared on CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman" earlier this month. He said he does theater and TV shows like Letterman's to raise awareness about animals, but in a fun way - or as he put it, in a "crazy way."

"You don't go on David Letterman and be a serious conservationist. If you are, then you'll not be asked back," Hanna said.

Perhaps the shows will drive someone to think of what they can do to help save wild animals or spur a trip to the zoo, said Hanna, who is director emeritus for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio.

But his work isn't all fun. Occasionally he's called upon by the media to discuss mishaps with wild animals. Last month, for instance, Hanna was out in the Pacific Ocean filming tiger sharks when a chimpanzee mauled a Connecticut woman.

"Basically, a wild animal is like a loaded gun. It can go off at any time," Hanna said.

Hanna has run into some such incidents himself, including an incident in 1973 at a Knoxville, Tenn., animal farm where he kept animals for zoos around the country.

A 3-year-old boy "crossed a fence or two," Hanna said, and an African lion took his arm off, according to an online "Larry King Live" transcript. Hanna talked about the incident on King's Jan. 6, 2004, show.

"You're going to hear about accidents in zoos. You're going to hear about accidents probably with Jack Hanna. Because, if you drive a race car, you're going to have a wreck," Hanna said during his phone interview with The Herald-Mail.

Asked what he tells people who grow concerned after hearing about such accidents, Hanna said: "I tell them that unless you're professionally doing this, don't mess with wild animals."

Hanna said he doesn't have primates in his show anymore because he's trying to show people they shouldn't have primates as pets. A chimpanzee has six to eight times the strength of a full-grown man, he said.

Most of the animals Hanna brings on shows are from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio. Some are from other animal parks.

"If you watch me, I very rarely will handle the animals," Hanna said. He brings with him animal handlers who work with those animals regularly, so the animal handler and animal are familiar with one another.

During his theater shows, cameras project closeups of the animals onstage onto a screen so the audience can see features like claws, Hanna said. Audience members will not be allowed on stage for safety reasons.

"I'm not saying I'll never have an accident. I won't say that. But if anyone's going to be hurt or bitten, it's going to be me," Hanna said.

If you go ...

WHAT: Jungle Jack Hanna Live!

WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday, March 29

WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown

COST: $25

MORE: For tickets, go to or call 301-790-2000. To learn more about Jack Hanna, go to Hanna's show, "Jack Hanna's Into the Wild," airs on WDCA (Antietam Cable's channel 10) at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesdays and at 12:30 p.m. on Sundays.

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