Homegrown: Jack Hanna

From David Letterman and Larry King Live to "Into the Wild," Jack Hanna captivates animal lovers all over the world.

"I've been charged by elephants and gorillas," says Hanna. "I have a home in Rwanda. I could tell you story after story."

To date, he's toured every continent, but as a child East Tennessee was Jack Hanna's wild kingdom.

"I'll never forget those days."

His family's 20 acre farm sat on the corner of Ebenezer and Kingston Pike in West Knoxville.

"Ebenezer was a gravel road, a little tiny gravel road. Growing up there was special. There was a creek in my front yard. I'd go down there and collect little fish, minnows and ducks. I'd even put stuff in my mother's commode bowl in the house. Oh yeah, I would."

At age 11, he got his first job with animals thanks to the family veterinarian, Dr. Roberts.

"He thought I'd last a day and I lasted 5 years cleaning cages everyday at his clinic."

And, as a teen, he made his first of what would became routine house calls to the Knoxville Zoo.

"I was fascinated by it. At the age of 16 I told myself I was going to be a zookeeper some day. And, back then, nobody wanted to become a zookeeper. But I never wavered from that dream."

After boarding school, he went to Muskingum College in Ohio.

"I brought my donkey to college. Can you imagine that? From Tennessee? Oh yeah!"

Not only did he get a degree, Hanna met his wife of now 42 years, Suzi.

"She had a love for animals."

They came back home to Knoxville.

"Somebody called me a curator once. I don't really know what I did. Who cares. I just loved working at the Knoxville Zoo. I raised a lot of animals for the Knoxville Zoo, elk, buffalo, goats, tigers, all kinds of animals. That was an incredible 2 years of my life."

However, that changed after a freak accident with a lion in 1973. Hanna and his family left Knoxville and moved South, eventually landing in Central Florida.

But hardship intervened again.

"Our daughter got cancer, so we ended up at Saint Judes in Memphis back in Tennessee and back in Knoxville. And that's when I heard about the Columbus Zoo having an opening in 1978. And, the rest is history. I've been here 32 years,"

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is one of his proudest accomplishments. Through 6 different regions, Jack educates guests with an animal adventure around the globe.

"This is a snow leopard everyone," says Hanna holding a cub. "It's one of the rarest catches in the world."

Thanks to one of a kind exhibits like the new Polar Frontier, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium welcomes 2.2 million visitors a year. Hanna credits an incredible staff and advice his father gave him years ago.

"He said, 'Jack if you work hard and you love what you do, you should succeed in life.'"

And, his wildest dreams have certainly come true.

"If something happened to me tomorrow I've lived 10, 000 lifetimes."

Jungle Jack is a father, a grandfather, and simply a man from Tennessee who loves animals.

"Who would've ever thought in Knoxville, Tennessee as a little boy that I'd ever be able to do this."

Jack Hanna, born in Knoxville, HomeGrown in Tennessee.

"My mind goes back to Knoxville so much in these last few years."


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