Unique and endangered live animals shown at Reptiland by wildlife expert

ALLENWOOD – Imagine being given the chance to be 10 feet away from a full-grown cheetah, no fences, no bars and no glass, and you still are in northcentral Pennsylvania.

Jack Hanna took center stage at Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland Monday evening for two shows, both featuring some unique wild animals.

The 5 p.m. show finished with the full-grown cheetah, but only before Hanna warned his audience to stay quiet and not to do a lot of moving.

“Kids stay real still,” he said. “I’m serious.”

Laura Brennan, director of marketing and group services at Reptiland, said bringing Hanna to Reptiland for such a intimate live show was something the staff was thinking about for awhile.

And a phone call later it was set.

“They were more than happy to accommodate,” she said.

When Hanna came to the Community Arts Center last year Reptiland had helped him out with animals and zookeepers, and they also helped at another show in Lancaster, and when he appeared on The Late Show with David Lettermen this past summer

Hanna told the audience he is celebrating 30 years on Good Morning America and said many of the animals seen at Allenwood can be seen next week on that show, Fox News and The Late Show with David Letterman.

The animals, which starred in the live shows on Monday night, were from the Columbus Zoo in Columbus, Ohio, where Hanna is director emeritus of the zoo and aquarium.

Along with two of his trained zookeepers, Hanna treated the audience to a very up-close look at some very rare animals.

He also taught children and adults alike various facts about the animals and how they live.

“Now you understand what an endangered animal is,” he said.

Before the show even started a keeper walked around the crowd and allowed visitors to learn more about the fennec fox and even get to gently pet it while it laid cuddled in her arms.

When the clouded leopard came on stage, the audience let out an collective “ahhhhhh.”

“Clouded leopard …very lucky to see one of these … its the rarest cat in the world,” Hanna said.

And when the black footed penguin waddled into the spotlight there wasn’t a face in the audience that didn’t flash a smile.

“This, everyone, is America’s bald eagle,” Hanna joked.

He told them there are only 17 species of penguins in the world and only five of them actually live in cold weather.

“I thought it was really fun, he was really funny and it was educational,” Ryanne Whiteman, 9, of Camp Hill, said.

She had Hanna sign her poster and had a photograph taken with him before the show started

Her mom, Pam, said she got her daughter out of school early to come.

“We love Jack Hanna. We are so happy we got to see him, she said.

Three hundred tickets were sold for the two shows.

“They sold out just like that,” Brennan said and began selling two weeks before Christmas.

“We had a waiting list, but no one has called and said they can’t make it,” she said, as of Monday morning.

Brennan said people want to get see a TV star and animal lover like Hanna and get close to him.

“I think that people love to have the opportunity to get close to someone of his prestige, and not just seeing him but seeing the cool animals,” she said.

Before both shows and after, and in between, Hanna signed autographs and took pictures with fans.

Some tickets holders opted for a VIP package giving them a 30-minute behind-the-scenes tour being led by Chad Peeling.

The tours went through the animal display area, and Brennan said there are hundreds of animals the public doesn’t see. They also learned about what a day is like being a zookeeper, learned what the the diets of the animals are like and were able to ask questions.

The tours were so popular that they ran from 4 p.m to 9 p.m. that evening.

“We are going to do everything we can to bring new things like this to the area,” Brennan said. “We got a great response and that encourages us to bring in things like this.”

A new addition to the zoo is the Komodo dragon exhibit. Brennan said the zoo plans on the exhibit being open in July, if not sooner this year.