Ask Jack: Jack Hanna’s Christmas Memories

By Beacon Staff

Well, the weather is really getting chilly, a reminder that it’s just about time for Santa to be sliding down chimneys into our warm homes here in Flathead Valley!

The Christmas holidays bring many happy memories to me … warm times spent with my family, sharing a great meal, gift-giving and fun conversation. In the early days, when our three girls were just youngsters, many times Christmas also meant caring for creatures – great and small. You see, as director of the Columbus Zoo, I would bring many animals home that needed 24-hour care. Such critters as bear and lion cubs would enjoy the holidays with us.

Christmas is also a time to reflect. I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity to have worked with animals, traveled the world, and spread the conservation message to many others. Just the other day someone asked me to reflect on my favorite holiday memory, and I didn’t have to think twice – it just popped right into my head! I’ll never forget it.

When I was a youngster growing up in Tennessee, we lived on a farm. I remember being 14 years old when I noticed a new addition at our neighbor’s sometime in December. They had two mini Sicilian donkeys, which were really unique with the design of a brown cross on their backs. Being an animal-lover, I was fascinated with them (I’d never seen donkeys like that before). Well, not only were the donkeys really something, they were hitched up to a miniature wagon. “Wowie,” I thought. I ran home and told my Mom and Dad about what I had seen.

Time passed (just about a year, in fact) and the next thing I knew it was time for Christmas again. We had our usual Christmas morning, then Dad asked me to help him with something outside. I followed him, walked around the house, and I couldn’t believe my eyes – standing there were two mini Sicilian donkeys, pulling a cart! I’ll never forget that moment, and I remember all the details like it happened yesterday. (As an aside, I took one of those donkeys, named “Doc,” to Muskingum College when I enrolled – what a smelly roommate.)

So, those were two really unusual pets I received as gifts. If you’re thinking of giving a pet to someone this year, please remember the adoption centers (like the Humane Society of Northwest Montana and the Flathead Spay and Neuter Task Force). They have a bevy of wagging tails and meowing friends that would love a new home.

By the way, a holiday at the Columbus Zoo can’t pass without thinking of “Colo,” a female gorilla. Colo was the first gorilla ever born in a zoological park, anywhere in the world. She was born on Dec. 22, 1956 – just three days before Christmas. What a gift! Colo began the Columbus Zoo’s famous gorilla family, and is now the second oldest gorilla in any zoological park. The zoo is most famous for its gorilla-breeding program, and we all give thanks to Colo each year!

Remember to e-mail me your questions at [email protected]. And if you need to relax a bit on Christmas day, be sure to watch my one-hour holiday special on the Maury show. You’ll see tons of my animal friends and a clip from my new TV series, Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild. Happy Holidays … from my family to yours!