Jack Hanna was in town earlier this month to be named East Tennessean of the Year by the East Tennessee Historical Society. At $500 per seat, the event, featuring Hanna and several animals from the Columbus Zoo, was a sellout at Cherokee Country Club.
This is only the second time the organization has bestowed this award. The only other time was in 2011 when former Knoxville mayor and current Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam received it.
“I can’t believe you all paid $500 to see me,” a seemingly humbled Hanna said after accepting the award. Although he said his wife, Suzi, had advised him to keep his remarks under 20 minutes, he spoke for over an hour, telling story after story about various animals and exotic locations he’s visited.
The most harrowing was his description of the worst animal bite he’s ever gotten. It was on the David Letterman Show in 1985 when he was handling a 35-pound beaver. “It was a monster beaver,” he recalled. “The biggest beaver I’ve ever seen.”
Near the end of the segment, the animal was startled by some music Letterman’s band started playing, and it chomped down into Hanna’s left hand, nearly severing his thumb. Incredibly, Hanna, who didn’t want Letterman to know what had happened, scurried off stage with the beaver. Backstage, with his hand spurting blood in time to his heartbeat, Hanna wrapped a paper towel around the hand and shoved on some rubber gloves. He then went back out on the set and, with his hands in the gloves, displayed two electric eels.
As soon as that was over, Hanna said he rushed out onto the street to grab a cab. But Manhattan traffic was in gridlock. Starting to feel faint, he asked a doorman where the nearest hospital was, and he walked the six blocks to the emergency room. As he stumbled in the door, hospital workers saw the blood on his famous safari shirt and mistook him for a shooting victim. They wouldn’t believe him when he told them he’d been bitten by a beaver. “How could you be bitten by a beaver in Manhattan?” they asked. Desperate to make them believe him, Hanna decided to lie. “I have a pet beaver,” he said. “And it bit me.”
I almost fainted just hearing the story.
Hanna was born in Knoxville in 1947. His family owned a farm at the corner of Ebenezer Road and Kingston Pike, an area that was considered very remote at the time. As a boy, Hanna worked for several years cleaning cages for his family’s veterinarian, Dr. Warren Roberts. That’s when he fell in love with animals. He often visited the Knoxville Zoo.
After Hanna went to boarding school in Pennsylvania and Muskingum College in Ohio, where he met and married his wife, he returned to Knoxville. Unable to get his parents’ land rezoned for a zoo, he and Suzi opened a pet shop and petting zoo. In 1973, however, a 3-year-old boy was mauled by a lion there and lost his arm. Hanna settled the resulting lawsuit out of court, closed the petting zoo and moved to Central Florida.
He became famous for the time he spent next at the Columbus Zoo, where, as director for 15 years, he is credited with turning a rundown, neglected attraction into one of the most highly regarded and most-visited zoos in America. Today, Hanna is director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. He also is well-known for his numerous morning and late-night television appearances, as well as for his own Emmy-winning TV shows.
Click here for a WBIR “Homegrown” segment about Jack Hanna.
I want a kangaroo. I do not want a beaver. I love Jack Hanna. Who is missing an undergarment?
Cynthia — great post! How interesting — thanks for sharing the beaver story and for the reminder about the Acly beard… I can’t get over the final photo!
Maria: I agree with you on all fronts!
Ellen: What do you mean “reminder” of the Acly beard? Has he gotten rid of it?
Love the kangaroo! I once had the opportunity to pet a kangaroo when serving as a chaperon on my son’s school field trip. Although the children were repeatedly warned not to touch the kangaroos, I ignored the instructions and reached over the fence to give a friendly looking kangaroo a pat on the head. He reached up and grabbed my hand and pulled me off my feet. They’re amazingly strong!
Maybe an item left behind by the baby kangaroo or the sloth?
The kangaroo is adorable! I have always loved Jack Hanna before I ever came to Knoxville. I didn’t realize he was from here until I moved here and learned that fact. What in the world? Someone was obviously uncomfortable and had a little too much to drink. I blame the sloth. Ha!
What a fun event!!
Poor sloth. Gets blamed for everything. Hanna said the sloths are very stinky. (Not this one, of course.) But they stay in the trees and are so slow that moss literally grows on them. And things start living on them. And they stink. They only come down at night to use the bathroom. They don’t want to use the bathroom from up in the trees because that might attract the attention of a mountain lion or another predator who would come up there and eat them. Better to sneak down to do your business and then return and continue the exciting lifestyle to which you are accustomed. Who knew?
Wow, Michelle! No kidding! They are that strong?
I now know everything I ever need to know about stinky sloths. Sounds like a great event!
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