The vice president and the zoo animals


Some of the staff and I had the opportunity last week to attend the Ohio Newspaper Association’s annual convention at the Polaris Hilton in Columbus.

In addition to providing information on all things newspaper, the convention generally attracts interesting keynote speakers for its annual gala.

Chris Spielman, former Ohio State University and pro football player, spoke to the trade association’s members last year about his late wife, Stefanie’s courageous battle against cancer and overcoming adversity. Pass the Kleenex, please — not a dry eye was left in the house.

Vice President Joe Biden was the headliner this year, followed by Jack Hanna, Columbus Zoo director emeritus and famous TV personality.

One of the event’s planners told me the association was lucky to land the VP as a speaker at “the last minute.” “Luck,” I thought to my cynical self, probably played less of a role than the fact that Ohio is an important battleground state during a presidential election year.

On the other hand, how often does one get to be that close to a person who is a stone’s throw away from the most powerful office in the world?

Quoting a line by Thomas Jefferson about the Fourth Estate and saying a free press is critical to our democracy, the Vice President scored some early “brownie points.”

He reassured attendees that even though the United States is down, its economy is still by far the biggest and strongest in the world, and he said not to fear foreign competition as it is the “adrenaline” that drives the American economy.

He also drew some laughs by throwing a zinger at fellow Democrat Al Gore.

Dispelling the popular misconception that the former VP invented the Internet, Vice President Biden said it was actually President Dwight Eisenhower who helped launch the program Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, known as ARPANET,  — a forerunner of today’s Internet — in the late 1950s.

It was odd to hear a stalwart of the Democratic Party giving a speech in some ways reminiscent of one you’d expect to hear from Ronald Reagan.

Although Biden pronounced at least twice during his speech that it was not about American exceptionalism — it was.

By the way, what is so wrong with our VP telling us our country is exceptional?

Maybe it’s because I can’t remember the last time I heard a positive speech about American greatness from a high ranking official in the Obama administration, but I realized I was hungry to hear such a sorely needed message.

Then my cynicism kicked in again.

In an election year, good politicians move to the center and make issues important to their audience at the moment paramount.

Enter Jack Hanna stage right.

Mr. Hanna, 65, is the genuine article as they say. The traits that have made him so successful on TV over the years are even more apparent in person. High-energy, straight-forward, funny, humble and quick-witted are some of the adjectives one might use to describe him.

The Knoxville, Tenn., native was, however, in “mission-mode” at the convention. He was there to explain the necessity of killing dozens of exotic animals in Zanesville last October and to push for legislation that will, hopefully, keep such a tragedy from occurring again in Ohio.

While Mr. Hanna railed against lawmakers for not moving more quickly to get exotic animal legislation passed, he also mentioned that he and his wife were up all night the night before after learning that doctors had found another tumor on the brain of their daughter, Julie. Julie, he optimistically pointed out, has had several bouts with cancer and like a cat, she “has nine lives.”

He said he hadn’t missed giving a speech in more than 27 years, and said, “I’m not going to start now.”

It was a good thing he didn’t cancel, because in addition to his talk, we got the extra treat of seeing a cheetah, a penguin and other exotic animals that have become Mr. Hanna’s trademark. He joked that the animals made the VP’s Secret Service detail a bit more anxious than usual.

But the fact that he deems a full exotic animal ban so important, under the circumstances, should make everyone take notice.

“You’re not dealing with a simple issue of animals here,” the animal expert said. “You’re dealing with bombs.”

There was no way of getting around killing the animals, Hanna said. When authorities arrived, he noted, there were only 45 minutes of daylight left.

It takes 30 minutes to an hour to properly tranquilize such animals in a controlled setting, he said, adding officials had no idea what the animals weighed, when they last had eaten, etc.

As was reported at the time, a veterinarian who initially attempted to sedate one of the big cats was nearly mauled.

One might expect someone like a zoo director to be an over-zealous animal rights activist. In actuality, he seems only to want a common sense law that protects Ohioans and the animals he so loves.

According to Mr. Hanna, there currently are some 200 lions and tigers in the state that live outside zoo-level containment and standards.

I hope our state legislators will heed his call and move swiftly to adopt a ban.

Maybe then “Jungle Jack” can take his non-political, common sense approach to problem solving and some tranquilizer darts to clean up the zoo that is our nation’s capitol.

T.J. Hubbard is the Examiner Assistant General Manager. He can be reached at