For years, “jungle” Jack Hanna, zookeeper and conservationist, has been demonstrating to the world the wonders of wildlife on his TV shows and as a guest on the “Late Show with David Letterman.”
However, during the Maverick Speakers Series on Tuesday evening at College Park Center, he played the role of Letterman to the Dallas Zoo’s Hanna.
Early on, the crowd was entranced as Hanna showed a clip from his show of a newborn black bear cub that they pulled from its mother’s den while hibernating.
The crowd awed at the cub, which wasn’t much larger than a teddy bear, as it roared like a playful child in the video.
As the stage lights turned on, the big bright-orange eyes of an Eurasian Eagle-owl peered out from behind the curtain to greet the audience.
The largest owl species in the world would soon be joined on stage with a Barn Owl and a Spectacled Owl.
Hanna detailed facts about how powerful a grip some owls possess, with some reaching pressure points that could crush human bones.
But despite this, Hanna would defer to Shannon College and the rest of the Dallas Zoo staff to further educate the audience about the animals on display.
College said if there was a rodent in College Park Center, the owls would find it.
Throughout the night the audience was showed an African crested porcupine, a two-toed sloth, tortoises from Madagascar, a cheetah, Caribbean flamingos, African penguins and more.
Hanna would joke around with the staff and his wife, who was in the audience, as he asked about the animals.
At one point, upon learning from Ryanne Hanley, a Dallas Zoo staff member that the male Argentine black and white tengu stored fat in his cheeks to look tough for females, Hanna stretched out his own cheeks and joked to his wife perhaps he should put on some weight.
The joking continued when members of Dallas Zoo began to bring boa constrictors on stage, and Hanna pretended to bolt from the stage doing his best Letterman impression.
When Hanna requested someone come on stage, Arlington resident Morgan Bellamy, 11, jumped from her chair onto the stage to touch the red-tailed boa the two handlers from the zoo were holding.
Bellamy said she loves reptiles, and the experience was amazing. She said touching the boa only reinforced her desire to become a reptilian veterinarian.
Hanna himself had a similar fondness for animals growing up, having been made fun of for wanting to be a zookeeper all the way through college; however, he kept true to what he wanted to do.
He said his dream was solidified when he asked what his father thought of his desire, to which his dad replied: “Do you enjoy what you do?”
Hanna said no matter what someone dreams, at the end of the day, if you enjoy what you do, that’s all that matters.
The next Maverick Speakers Series event will feature actor Anna Deavere Smith at 7:30 p.m. on March 26 in Texas Hall.