Thirty-five years ago Wednesday, a young man from Tennessee landed in Columbus with dreams of building a better zoo.
Jungle Jack Hanna is celebrating a big anniversary with the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium.
On Wednesday, he talked about the zoo’s past and future.
Hanna says feeding manatees is something he never imagined possible 35 years ago. Same with seeing a koala bear and countless other animals that now call central Ohio home.
“If you asked me about a dream in 1978, would the zoo ever have a koala, I’d say, ‘Are you kidding me? All I want is one zebra and maybe a warthog or something up here,’” Hanna said.
He credits hard work and central Ohioans for making the zoo possible.
He said it all started with cleaning up the gorillas.
“Get them out of the concrete, where they’ve never been on grass, they never before saw light,” he said.
Hanna shared a secret with 10TV – he’d never seen a gorilla before he came to the zoo.
“I mean, Tennessee. You don’t see gorillas. I ain’t seen a lot of these animals I can tell you right now, as a matter of fact, you’re the first person I’ve ever told this to,” Hanna said.
Hanna became a household name with his first national appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman in 1985.
But Hanna’s first TV spotlight was on Front Page Saturday Night on 10TV.
Soon after that, Hanna hosted his own show, Hanna’s Ark.
Today, he hosts a number of shows that have taken him to all seven continents with conservation of animals at the core.
He said that he has more than just the best job in the world – he has lived a dream.
“I have lived more than a dream, and that’s more than a job,” he said.
When Hanna first came to Columbus in 1978, the zoo was only 78 acres. Today, it’s more than 580 acres, including the new Africa exhibit set to open in May.
He’s not done, though.
“My one dream I have left is getting Africa opened, and I want to get the giant pandas back here,” Hanna said.
With Africa set to open in the spring, it seems pandas won’t be too far behind.
To celebrate Hanna’s 35 years at the zoo, the zoo is offering 35 cent rides on its carousel. Anyone who is 35 years old also gets into the zoo for free Wednesday through Sunday.
Saturday is the kickoff of Hanna’s Fall Fest, with shows at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. both days.
Watch 10TV News and refresh 10TV.com for more.