Ask Jack: How to Travel With Exotic Animals

By Beacon Staff

My first TV appearance in Columbus was on a local cable program, and since then I’ve been lucky enough to spread the word about wildlife and conservation on many national shows and reach many more people. Getting together a group of animals and their caretakers, driving to the studio and doing the show can be quite a challenge sometimes!

My family and I have seen you many times on various “talk shows” like Good Morning America, Larry King, etc. You always have a load of animals with you – do they all come from the Columbus Zoo, and do they get to fly “first-class?” -Deborah S.

Great question! It is a really a big undertaking whenever we travel and have animals on national television programs. Other than myself, there are six to eight animal handlers that care for the critters. Many of the animals are from the Columbus Zoo, but we always have additional help from other zoos, animal sanctuaries and wildlife educators around the country.

In most cases, the caretakers drive to the television studios – whether that be in New York, Washington, or elsewhere. When on the West Coast, I depend on associates based there for assistance. The Columbus animal-care crew has a specially built vehicle to transport the creatures for each show, and they make regular stops during their travels to exercise them. Once in New York, for example, they check into a hotel (one that allows animals) and continue to care for the animals – feeding them, checking their health, and making sure they get the exercise they desire. If an animal appears to be “having a bad day” they are given a rest and not used on the show.

By the way, the animals that make these TV appearances are ones that are raised to be used in public educational programs. So, they learn from an early age to be comfortable around a lot of people, studio lights, odd sounds, etc. In most cases, they are young animals and aren’t “of the mind” to use their teeth and claws. Again, they’ve been raised to be accustomed to people and aren’t afraid (and thus, not aggressive).

In fact, at Columbus we have a special staff that takes care of this group of animals. They work with them everyday so that the animals are able to be shown in an educational or TV setting. These animals aren’t on display at the zoo, and are “busy” making appearances all around Central Ohio!

As you can imagine, you never know what to expect when you have a bunch of animals in tow! On one occasion, we were in New York to make an appearance on “Late Show with David Letterman.” After the show was finished, my wife Suzi and I returned to our room in a really plush hotel in Manhattan. I always seem to have Madagascar hissing cockroaches with me for every TV appearance, and this time was no exception (these are roaches that are 3-5 inches in length). But, I forgot to give them back to my caretakers that evening, so I just put them in a sock (figuring that they liked dark places) and went to bed.

At 6:30 a.m sharp the next morning, there was a knock on the door. “Mr. Hanna, may we speak to you in private?” asked the hotel manager. Seems that the lady in the room next to ours found a cockroach scurrying around her bathroom – one much larger than the typical New York variety. Suzi was mortified, I extended my apologies, and the hotel manager didn’t charge the lady for her room! The moral of the story (at least my promise to Suzi),was that I’d never bring cockroaches back to the hotel room again!

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