One of "Good Morning America's" favorite guests, Jack Hanna, has just released a memoir called "Jungle Jack: My Wild Life," which chronicles more than five decades of his passion, devotion and love of animals.
"GMA" was the first national TV program to feature Hanna and his amazing animals. He was an instant hit, and the rest, as they say, is history.
In the chapter below, Hanna describes how he got started in TV, and he shares some of his favorite funniest moments from "GMA" and "Late Night With David Letterman."
Chapter 13: Lights, Camera, Animals!
All this television stuff started, unintentionally, after I got to Columbus. Seeing me in some colorful local news interviews, the producer of a cable talk show asked me if I'd host some animal episodes. As an opportunity to promote the zoo, I accepted.
My next stop on the local circuit was Hanna's Ark, a family-type show on WBNS (CBS) that featured my daughter Kathaleen and me as co-hosts. With her trademark pigtails, she was only eleven but stole the show every time. She took the job very seriously, learning not only her lines but mine as well, to help me when I would forget. And she was completely fearless with the animals. She never flinched when a huge, black, hairy tarantula was placed on her arm, or when she was filming five feet from a spitting cobra. At Sea World one of the segments we filmed was the water skiing show. While one of the performers was skiing, he held Kathaleen who then climbed on top of his shoulders. Suzi said the ballet lessons paid off —she even pointed her toes! Though she certainly had her share of scratches and bites, she never said a word about it. We would open with an animal at the zoo, then go to footage of the same species in the wild, then come back and close from the zoo. I loved the concept, and it was fun while it lasted.
After two years and forty-eight episodes, Hanna's Ark was shelved. I was somewhat upset at the time, since the station announced that we didn't have enough animals to tie in to the wild because we were a small zoo. Tell the people that Hee Haw was creeping up on us—which it was—but don't tell me, a zoo director with some six thousand animals, that we don't have enough animals left.
But ending Hanna's Ark turned out to be a blessing. Shortly afterward, Channel 4, the local NBC affiliate, offered me a series of one-hour wildlife specials. These shows enabled me to learn (as I taught) about wild animals at the farthest reaches of the earth. We covered Egypt, East Africa, China, India, the Galápagos Islands, Alaska, Antarctica—you name it. And the result was an avalanche of invaluable publicity for the zoo.
A special bonus to our agreement was a small weekly bit every Friday called Zoo Day. I'd take an animal to the studio, or a crew came to us, and we just talked about what was going on at the zoo. It was a fantastic weekend reminder.
Angela Pace, the anchorperson for my first five years of Zoo Days, was, at the beginning, deadly opposed to the segment—she thought it had no place on a serious newscast. But we hit it off so well and had so many good times together that it did not take long for her to come around.
Our greatest Zoo Day segment ever was the one on which Betty White, my favorite camel, let out what sounded like a torrential downpour splashing down on the studio floor—something like when you've got a broken gutter in a thunderstorm. It was way too loud to ignore, so I just interrupted my spiel on what the camel ate and said, "Guess what, Angela? Betty's going to the bathroom."
Angela, meanwhile, was trying to step out of the camel's way. And I figured we'd better get Betty off, so I went to pull her with the rope, but she slipped in her own urine and ended up knocking me and Angela down. Next, I brought out a few little goats to promote spring fever at our Children's Zoo. I guess they must have all just eaten, because when they got to the same spot, they all started going to the bathroom, too. By now, I was laughing so hard I was crying; Angela was trying hard to maintain her composure.
"Let's have one more look at Betty White," I said to Angela.
"No, uh . . . Jack, I don't think we have time," said Angela, just as Betty came storming back in, butting Angela out of her way, sending her flying to the floor again. In one split second, ol' Betty was in and out of the frame.
As Angela attempted to pick herself up off the floor to sign off, I went to grab Betty White, who was now standing in a corner of the studio. In traditional camel fashion, she wouldn't budge. The last thing the viewer saw was me tugging on that camel, with the picture jumping up and down from the cameraman laughing so hard.
Why anyone would look at that tape and still invite me into their studio, I have no idea. But soon to follow was my big start on national television. In 1983, Patty Neger, associate producer from ABC's Good Morning America called. She had seen on the AP wire service a story about twin gorillas being born here in Columbus. She asked if they could do a live remote with me from the zoo, and I said fine. It all went off very smoothly, but I have to say it's hard to miss with a couple of twin baby gorillas.
"I was the first person to put Jack on national television. . . . You can blame it all on me." —Patty Neger, Coordinating Producer, Good Morning America
A year later Patty checked in on us again with the idea of doing a birthday party for the twins. We had a birthday cake, the whole bit, and by this time the twins were total hams. They were all over me, pulling my earphone out and chewing my safari shirt. The GMA people liked it, and Patty told me to call her if there were any more significant births happening at the zoo.
The following spring, while in New York on some other business, I told Patty about Taj, the white tiger cub born to yellow parents that Suzi was raising at home because of the cub's leg disability. Patty said they had a last-minute opening and asked if I could get Taj to New York immediately. Suzi wasn't home, but the GMA people somehow managed to track her down—before I did—on the golf course during Jack Nicklaus's Memorial Tournament. Hours later, Suzi and Taj were on their way to New York City.
Suzi carried Taj with her in a crate, and on the plane, Taj received star treatment. The pilot welcomed the "white tiger cub," as Taj's boarding pass was registered, to the plane, and the man sitting beside Suzi asked her for Taj's boarding pass. "My wife will never believe I sat next to a tiger cub on the plane," he told her. The next morning, Taj joined me for my first Good Morning America studio appearance with Joan Lunden. And boy, did she "awww" them!
My next appearance was again in the studio, with two lion cubs and a sandhill crane. Kathleen Sullivan was the host and that crane was flapping its huge wings so much that Kathleen's hair was blowing like she was in a wind tunnel. The cubs were crawling all over my lap, and I just went on with the interview as though nothing was happening.
What I was going through was nothing compared to Debbie Casto's ordeal the night before. Debbie, our marketing director at the time, had just been kicked out of the Plaza Athénée Hotel. Around ten o'clock, she had taken one of the lion cubs for a walk on the marble floor of the hotel's foyer, and somebody got uptight. Debbie wound up sleeping in the manager's office on a cot with the two cubs.
Anyway, that particular show cemented Good Morning America's relationship with the Columbus Zoo. Producer Sonya Selby-Wright suggested having me appear on a monthly basis, and at the same time GMA officially "adopted" the Columbus Zoo with the twins' second birthday party. An aardvark and a couple of baby wallabies were presented on the air to hosts David Hartman and Joan Lunden, with the understanding that GMA would adopt them, which includes the cost of feeding the animals for a year.
"Every single time Jack was going to be on, I'd come home and say to my kids, 'Guess who's going to be on next Thursday?' They would yell, 'Jack Hanna!' Jack was the guest, the star that they always wanted to see." —Joan Lunden
For the first segment under the new arrangement, Joan Lunden traveled out to the zoo. We greeted her at the front gate with a welcoming committee that looked like a Noah's Ark with zookeepers. Joan loves animals, and aside from an embarrassing moment when Oscar the gorilla disrespectfully nailed her with his infamous crap toss, she had a great time touring the zoo.
It makes it much easier for everyone when a TV personality likes the animals that I bring on, especially on live television. There are no rehearsals, so it's hard to predict a tense situation, and, of course, it's a well-known fact that animals react differently to tension in human beings.
Charlie Gibson, who took over as co-host from David Hartman, had a nasty moment, just before we went on. It was Charlie's first week, it was a brand-new set, and it was my first appearance with him. There was a large group of television reporters on the set, and I'd brought along a cougar, a red-tailed hawk, and a fox for my talk about North American animals. "People ask me, 'What's it like to be Jack's producer?' You can't produce Jack. You point him in the right direction, and you pray." —Patty Neger
About thirty seconds before our cue to go on, I picked up the fox , and it tried to nip me a little, nothing too bad. I held it firmly in my lap, and as Charlie sat down opposite me, he asked to hold the fox. I could not say no—actually, I could have and should have, but I didn't. I handed Charlie the fox, and it bit him hard on the index finger.
With only a few seconds until we were on, Charlie let the fox down without saying a word and reached into his pocket for a handkerchief to smother his bleeding finger. "Today, we have Jack Hanna with us from the Columbus Zoo," he said, cool and on cue, without any reference to the bite.
Meanwhile, I was holding a cougar, and the fox was running all over the set. Charlie asked me some questions very professionally, while I tried hard not to look at his finger, which was bleeding like a stuck pig.
"There weren't many things Charlie and I fought over; we didn't usually try to one-up the other. But every now and then we would fight over doing the Jack Hanna spot." —Joan Lunden
The minute the show was over, Charlie just asked me what kind of shots he needed, before rushing out the door to a doctor. I told him tetanus shots, but I did not mention that foxes can carry rabies. A photographer from the New York Post was there, and Charlie got a lot of mileage from the bite in the next day's paper. I was on Late Night the following week, and, predictably, Letterman had a few laughs at Charlie's and my expense.
Since that first appearance in 1983, I've continued to appear regularly on Good Morning America, now about once each month. The agreement that we have with Good Morning America is a prime example of how the public has changed in its perception of zoos. We're more concerned with preserving species than we are with showing off exotic animals. GMA wanted the viewer to learn something about animals (often about threatened or endangered species) and still enjoy the animal as well. (For Letterman, you can just turn that around.)
"It was fun television, but we were all impacted by Jack's love of animals, his dedication to educating people about animals, and his passion for protecting animals in zoos and in the wild." —Joan Lunden
Many people think that I earn big bucks from all the television shows I do, including Letterman and GMA. I am there to represent the Columbus Zoo and the animals, not to make a million. The expenses—which, with animal travel, can be considerable—are covered by the networks, not taxpayer dollars. But the amount of TV time that we accumulate in a year would come to millions of dollars if we had to buy it in advertising.
Now, what I do on the David Letterman show is different. My philosophy is similar to that of Walt Disney: "I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained." I'm a character on David Letterman, and I accept that role—it's not all that much different from me in real life anyway, especially when I'm away from the zoo. It's also very different from what I do for Good Morning America, and it reaches a different audience, possibly an audience not typically exposed to animal programming. But on Letterman, people mostly play for laughs, which is something we've managed to do for years now without demeaning or hurting any of the animals.
And along with the laughs, people do learn about animals on the Letterman shows too. I'd like to think that even David Letterman, between all the jokes and the put-downs, has managed to learn something about animals, not necessarily from me but from the animals themselves. They're the real stars.
I had been doing Good Morning America for about a year when I received a call from Laurie David (now Laurie Lennard, former wife of Larry David), the talent coordinator at that time for NBC's Late Night with David Letterman. They were looking for an animal person who could get along with Dave, and Patty Neger had referred me, saying she knew just the guy.
Well, I hated to admit it, but I had never watched the show, mainly because of my job hours. I'd heard of it, but had never seen it. When the show came on, I was in bed. All the same, I told her, "Sure, I'll go on. Just tell me when and where."
Meanwhile, the local media all came to me saying, "Don't go on that show, he'll tear you apart." I thought he was just a talk-show host like I'd seen on Carson, and I wondered what they were talking about. Tear me up? What's he want to tear me up for?
On Valentine's Day 1985, my first Late Night date, snow threatened to cancel the whole thing. We were going to take the animals east in a zoo van, but the roads were mostly closed, and travel was impossible, especially with exotic animals. I was desperate, but I knew we'd get there somehow. If I called the Letterman people and said I couldn't make it, what were my chances of ever being asked back?
A friend of mine, Dale Eisenman, said he'd fly all the animals, no problem. Most of the animals were small, but I hadn't told him about Spinner, the eighty-five-pound baby pygmy hippo. The animals would not fit in his plane, so he found another one and pulled the back seats out so that Spinner, two capuchin monkeys, a pelican, a crow, a European hedgehog and a pig could all squeeze in.
The animals got to the NBC studios in Rockefeller Center just in time for the show, and I was totally psyched, pumped up and ready to show our zoo to the entire country. David and I met on the air, the way it is with most of his guests. I brought the capuchin monkeys out, and got a big laugh when I told him they didn't like women. I caught some flak for this, but, hey, it was true—they didn't like women. The pelican wouldn't eat the fish, Henry the crow flew up into the audience and wouldn't come back, and the pig was running around all over the place. We—my staff and I—just kind of let things happen. David was very polite and courteous, and I knew he liked the pygmy hippo. But I do remember him looking at me like I might be a little crazy.
Although I didn't plan it or realize it then, the helter-skelter, animals-all-over-the-place idea set the trend for future appearances. I'd found my niche. People who know me know that I'm at my best when I'm doing fifty things at once.
The producers were pleased and even asked me not to plan any other late-night talk-show appearances. The host seemed to have a good time, too, and I knew this was important in terms of being invited back. When they officially asked me, a month later, if I could appear during ratings week in May, I was elated.
For the next show, I brought two young elephants, Boomer and Belle, who weighed in at two thousand pounds each. They barely fit in the freight elevators in Rockefeller Center; another six months and I would have been out of luck.
The pachyderms were a big hit, and it was on this show that David started to kid me a bit. He asked me how the lesser anteater I'd brought on the show got his name, and I said, "Because they eat less than other anteaters." He made a face, like sure, Jack, and everybody laughed. I wasn't trying to be funny or to set myself up; I was just kind of preoccupied when he asked—some animal had disappeared under his desk. It wouldn't be long before he'd be telling me that I wasn't really a zoo director, that there really wasn't any zoo in Columbus.
Everything on the Letterman show happens spontaneously; there is no script. But we still have to have the animal situation under control—you can't just bring them out in any order. Once we had a cheetah on the show, with a variety of other animals, half of which might be the cheetah's prey in the wild. As I was going over the list, the producer asked me, where was our "wow" animal? We were starting with the cheetah and ending with a Chinese pheasant, and I think he would have liked it the other way around. "We can't bring the cheetah on with those other animals," I told him. "We'd have a scene right out of National Geographic. It wouldn't be pretty."
We bring animals on the basis of their availability, their health, their temperament—how they'll react to rock music, for example—and we also try to vary the selection from show to show. Ideally, I'd like to have as many "wow" animals as possible on there. They're all "wow" animals as far as I'm concerned, but I know that if I bring a snail and a housecat on the show, my future in promoting the animals and the zoo wouldn't be too bright.
In a sense, I'm between a rock and a hard place on this. The producers would like to have wild animals running all over the place—that's the big payoff. But just as a singer knows what songs he can sing and in what style, as a zoo director, I know what animals I can handle, where I can put them, how fast I can pick one up and a host of other intangibles that crop up. Dave obviously has to get the laughs, that's what the show's for, but I'm also out there to make sure nobody gets hurt; him, me or the animals. And in the process, I hope to educate the viewing audience a little as well.
One of our nuttiest visits ever was when I brought up a couple of full-grown camels. I weighed and measured them, like I do with all the animals before we come on, but I forgot to measure their humps. They had plenty of room in the elevator, but the ceiling where they got off was too low. And I learned a new animal fact: once a camel's walking straight in a narrow hallway, you can hardly turn him around. We walked them down the hallway to the studio, and their humps took out just about every ceiling panel—ruined them, lights and all.
The building manager came up and really let me have it. I apologized and told him I'd pay for the damage. He told me this would cost more than $5,000. By now, a crowd of NBC personnel had gathered around like it was a big party—we probably cleared every office on the entire floor. I'd been trying to concentrate on the show coming up, and now I was a wreck about the damage.
Barry Sands, who was Late Night's producer then, came out and told me not to worry about it, that the building people don't run the show. I told Barry I was really sorry, but I never noticed that he had a camera shooting this whole fiasco, that he was going to open the show with it. It looked like a tornado had struck.
Well, of course, all this was a big hit. David just shook his head at me and said, "Oh, Jack, Jack . . . ," like can't you ever just come up here and be normal? Dave, of course, had to ride the camel and almost knocked his head on one of the studio spotlights, but otherwise the show went great.
When it was time for us to leave, the maintenance people had already fixed a few panels and three or four lights. I'm sure they didn't consider that we had to get the camels back downstairs again. Our dromedaries knocked out those lights and panels the same way they did coming in. Now the building guy was doubly mad. Since then, they put us in a maintenance room instead of the dressing room. But that's fine with us, as long as we're able to mop up all the mess.
In another wild Letterman experience, I was I bitten by an animal on camera. A friend of mine, Leslie Whitt, director of the Alexandria Zoo in Louisiana, flew in a young twenty-pound beaver that I hadn't handled previously. All went well while I held the beaver on my lap. Then I demonstrated how she could swim by placing her in a glass tank in front of Dave's desk.
The beaver was still okay as I lifted her from the tank—with dripping water drenching me and the stage floor. As I got up to take the beaver off during the commercial break, she started to slide out of my hands. I grasped the base of her tail with my right hand, and she chomped down on the space between my left thumb and index finger; I slid on the wet floor, went down on one knee, scrambled up, and hung on to the beaver until an assistant repossessed her. And all this on camera. Not one of my most graceful exits.
In the two minutes allotted to the commercial break, I wrapped paper towels around my bleeding hand and slipped on a flesh-colored rubber glove just as we went back on the air. Sometimes the show must go on. We finished the segment, which included electric eels, a Chinese crested dog, and a yak. The glove on my left hand was rapidly filling with blood, so I was very anxious for the segment to end—especially before Dave had a chance to make some comment about my beaver bite.
Immediately after the segment, Suzi Rapp, one of the handlers on that trip, turned to me and said, "Jack, how are you going to get an ambulance at five-thirty in New York City, especially at Christmastime?"
Simple. "I'll just run."
After several blocks I reached Roosevelt Hospital. Once there, people thought I was a shooting victim with blood spattered all over my clothes. Of course, the first question was, "What happened?" I didn't want to tell them that a beaver bit me on the David Letterman show, so I improvised.
"My beaver bit me." Strange looks were exchanged. "My beaver bit me in Central Park." I'm not sure they ever believed me, but they patched me up just the same.
The next time I was on the show, Letterman said to me, "Jack, I hope you learned your lesson."
"What's that, Dave?"
"You never mess around with another man's beaver."
After that, I began bearing the brunt of David Letterman's jokes on a regular basis. I don't mind; I really don't. I know Dave loves the animals. He treats them better than he does most of his guests. And I'm always amazed at his knack for coming up with the lines.
"Have these guys been eating onions, Jack?"—when I brought out the twin gorillas.
"Is this your idea of a good time in Columbus?"—when I showed him how a chinchilla takes a dust bath.
"Jack, you're 100 percent sure this is a female, right?"—when I had him milk a goat.
Of course, sometimes I step into it. Like when he's asking me how far a particular bird can fly, and I'll say, "Oh, they'll fly real far, Dave." He'll just look at me without saying anything for a few seconds, the audience will laugh, and I'll think, uh-oh . . . here it comes. "You're not a zoo director, are you, Jack?" he'll say. "There is no zoo in Columbus, is there?"
On Letterman, the punch lines continue even after I'm long gone. They'll sometimes have a special emergency bulletin that comes up after I leave that says something like, "Attention viewers: Please be on the lookout for large mountain lion. Last seen leaving the Sullivan Theater. If you spot it, please be sure to contact Jack Hanna at the Columbus Zoo." You wouldn't believe the calls we get!
Since the eighties, I've continued to visit Good Morning America about once a month and David Letterman about three times a year. In the meantime, I began making my rounds on Larry King Live, Ellen, Maury, the FOX News network, CNN programs, and many others. I have lots of fun on the shows and really enjoy the interaction with the hosts and the audience, but because I rarely watch TV, I don't always recognize some of the other celebrities I run into.
When doing Letterman a few years ago, I was in the green room with this nice, blonde young lady. To be friendly, I asked, "So, do you sing or something?"
She smiled. "Yeah."
"Hi, I'm Jack Hanna." I held out my hand.
"Britney," she replied, shaking my hand. She came out to see the animals, and one of my handlers later explained that she was pretty popular.
On another trip, Suzi Rapp and I were heading to Letterman, and this oddly tall guy starts running toward me from across the street. "Mr. Hanna! I love you!" he booms when he catches up. Um, okay, I'm thinking. I thanked him, and we went on our way. Afterward, Suzi told me he was on some show about a guy named Raymond.
Once, my wife, Suzi, and I were sitting in the green room at a television station, and Suzi was grooming one of our long-haired Angora rabbits, trying to get rid of its tangled fur balls. Rabbit hair was just flying everywhere. There were a few other people around, and noting one lady's country-western style of dress, I said to her, "So what do you do?"
"I'm a country music singer," she answered with a familiar twang.
"Oh, really?" I continued. "What's your name?"
"Reba McIntyre." Now, I do listen to country music, and that was one name I did know. I was so embarrassed that I was afraid to ask the other girl's name.
It doesn't hurt my feelings if people are clueless who I am. I don't consider myself a celebrity. Actually, I don't really even like the word because it's taken on such a negative connotation today. Yeah, people know my face from seeing me on television, but who am I kidding? I know who they're watching, and it sure isn't me. It's that cute little baby barn owl, a cuddly cub, or Fluffy, the largest snake in captivity. Next to that, how could a person like me expect to rise to celebrity status?
I think the closest I've gotten was in 1996, when People magazine named me one of its 50 Most Beautiful People. I had never really read the magazine, but one day somebody called me from New York and said that I'd been chosen for their most beautiful people issue. What? Was this some sort of joke? Once they convinced me it was, in fact, not a joke, they wanted to come take my picture. I told them, "Oh, no, I've got plenty of pictures. I'll send you one." Still they insisted on a photo shoot.
When the issue came out, I couldn't believe it. "Devastatingly sexy," Helen Gurley Brown was quoted as saying. Sheesh. And even my friends, Betty White and Bo Derek were in on it, offering quotes for the magazine. Boy, did I get ribbed after that! Charlie Gibson called the office and very politely asked, "May I speak to the world's most beautiful person?" I was flattered, but I don't think I'll ever live that one down.
On the flip side, I've also, out of habit, forced my "celebrity" on poor, unsuspecting victims. While filming in New Orleans, Dan Devaney, our sound guy, and I plopped down on a park bench, and this guy came by and held out a piece of paper. I was probably thinking about everything but that piece of paper. Automatically, I took it out of his hand, signed it, and handed it back with a smile and a nod. "OH . . ." he began, a little stunned, "I just wanted directions." Golly day, was that humbling!
When we go into truck stops, most of the time no one recognizes me until I open my mouth. They'll say, "That's amazing! You sound just like Jack Hanna!"
And I'll say, "Yeah, people tell me that all the time."
For the most part, we do try to be low-key when we're traveling. It's quicker and easier to unload the animals if there's not a crowd around. Kate, my assistant, faces a unique challenge when it comes to booking a place to stay. Most places don't allow pets, much less zoo animals. It's gotten tough enough just to get them in—most people know what's up when Jack Hanna checks in—and most of them have to be exercised, cleaned, watered, and fed too. We've made a few friends in the hotel business and have learned where we're welcome and where we most certainly are not.
Before we learned the ropes, we made the mistake of taking a sarus crane for a walk in the lobby of the Rihga Royal, not the kind of hotel where birds were typically allowed. Still, we figured the marble floor would be easy to clean. After prancing around for a while, the birds started cawing and scratching on the marble floor and startling some of the other guests. Before we knew it, we were doing some swift talking with the manger, the birds ended up in his office, and we weren't allowed to stay there anymore.
For a while, we did find a nice home at the Mayflower. We've stayed there for years and are sad to see it—and its welcoming owners—go. Our rooms were a mini zoo, with monkeys dangling from the luggage rack and penguins in the bathtub. The bar was downstairs, so you always had people double-checking the number of drinks they'd had when they saw a big cat walk by.
One of the most challenging aspects of cohabitating with animals is the constant lack of sleep. Many of the animals are nocturnal: an owl will hoot, a cat will pace, an alligator in the bathtub will thrash and splash around all night. After three or four days of this, you can turn into a zombie. But I've never heard anyone complain, and the animals seem to enjoy the change of scenery.
Without my handlers in the promotions department, there would be no Good Morning America or Letterman or Larry King Live for Jack Hanna—no television shows of any kind, for that matter. In fact, I probably couldn't give a speech at a grade school without somebody to help me with the animals.
I do about forty to fifty live shows a year, too, in which the handlers are indispensible. I mostly just do the talking, speaking to the audience about the animals, trying to tell them things they can relate to. The handlers continue to have the animals entering and exiting the stage, pointing out details on the animal as I speak. We'll show them the quills of a porcupine or explain that a binturong smells like buttered popcorn—fun facts that will help the audience walk away remembering information about that animal.
Before and after the shows, I autograph postcards for everyone who wants one. I see everyone from toddlers to Red Hat ladies, animal lovers all. After the shows, the handlers bring out some of the animals for a little show-and-tell. Everyone seems to love that. Be it television or a live theater show, I have three or four handlers stationed off-stage, ready to take care of any situation that might arise. They know when or when not to come on, when to keep an animal from going into the audience. They're a very dedicated group of people.
The keepers feel fortunate to go on national TV; they also get to travel, and they play a part in our various public relations programs. They receive credit for their hard work back at the zoo that they might not ordinarily receive if the Columbus Zoo weren't in the spotlight. I try to give everyone the opportunity to participate, and I'm grateful that they do it with so much enthusiasm. I could never do it without them.
Naturally, I consider television and live shows important educational tools for the benefit of wildlife. However, taking animals on national television has been a bone of contention among my critics in the zoo world and animal rights activists. They've said that I'm showboating, that I'm misrepresenting wildlife, that the alien conditions cause the animals undue stress and that these trips generally serve little purpose. I couldn't disagree more. Although the regulations are getting tougher and the list of acceptable outreach animals is shrinking, I'll continue to do everything I can to bring these animals to the public as a means of promoting animal conservation and awareness.
Entertainment-oriented shows reach large audiences, audiences that might not be in tune with the worldwide wildlife situation. If we can capture the attention of the millions of young people who watch the Letterman show, we can gain new recruits to the role of conservation. The national exposure of well-known television personalities endorsing our zoos and supporting endangered wildlife is invaluable, and the live animals that appear on the tube are our best salesmen.