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Jack Hanna rolls out rare animals to delight crowd at Watertown arena


“Outfox” was a phrase given new meaning by celebrity animal expert Jack Hanna on Saturday in Watertown.

A nocturnal fennec fox from the Sahara Desert was one of about a dozen rare animals that delighted a full house of spectators during Mr. Hanna’s “Into the Wild Live” show at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds Arena, part of the DPAO/Toyota/Car-Freshner Summer Concert Series. Also showcased were a sloth, kangaroo, penguin and cheetah, along with video clips featuring close encounters with snakes, gorillas and other wildlife from the expeditions of “Jungle Jack” over the past three decades.

A camera zoomed in on the fox’s head to let the crowd see it on a big screen, revealing an outsize pair of ears. It was Mr. Hanna’s cue for a joke.

“David Letterman said about this fox, ‘Jack, that looks like someone got screwed up in the lab,’” he said. The crowd laughed. He explained the fox’s large ears play an important role, making it one of the toughest animals on earth.

“Like elephants that have big ears that flap, they work like a radiator,” he said. The fox “uses thousands of blood vessels in his ears to help him stay cool in the desert.”

And unlike thirsty humans, Mr. Hanna said, the fox doesn’t need water to survive.

“They live by eating insects, venomous snakes and lizards. He loves to eat scorpions,” he said. “And if you look at him at night, you see a pair of pink eyes.”

Mr. Hanna, who wears a safari hat and talks rapidly with a Southern accent, explained how animals with highly unusual characteristics, such as the fennec fox, have adapted over time to survive. An Asian palm civet showcased on stage, for example, is a tiny gray and black animal that looks like it would be vulnerable in the wilderness. But think twice about that, Mr. Hanna said, because the intelligent animal survives “in jungles that are thicker and hotter than the Amazon, and he eats everything. He loves venomous snakes and can even eat a king cobra.”

This particular palm civet, Mr. Hanna said, was caught on videotape outwitting a king cobra in a dance of death.

“He runs and runs and runs around the cobra to make it turn around,” he said. “Eventually it gets dizzy, and he bites the cobra’s head off.”

Another amazing animal exhibited was a rare Egyptian serval cat, which has an amazing ability to catch birds. The cat looked docile on stage, but it turns into an agile beast when hunting prey, Mr. Hanna said.

“It’s one of the few cats in the world that can catch a bird flying,” he said. “It hides in the grass and jumps up like a bullet, six to eight feet, to catch birds.”

The show concluded with the much-anticipated cheetah from the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, brought on stage by three handlers. Mr. Hanna, director emeritus at the zoo, said it includes 10,000 acres of wild land for the cheetah to roam freely. Although cheetahs can run up to 70 mph, they have a hard time killing their prey when compared with other cats, such as lions.

“Cheetahs are a weak cat in the wild,” he said. “She will study her prey for two to three days before attacking. She explodes at 60 mph in less than three seconds to grab her prey, but 70 percent of the time they get away because she has to grab the throat right away.”

Cheetahs have razor-sharp focus, Mr. Hanna said. They can pay close attention to small animals at long distances. Helping them do so are black teardrop marks under their eyes to block the sun, similar to baseball players who use black grease.

“Isn’t it cool that Mother Nature invented it before baseball players?” Mr. Hanna joked.

Six-year-old Kyerin R. Rodas, who attends kindergarten in Calcium, said her favorite animals were the cheetah and fennec fox. When she saw the fox’s big ears, she said, “I knew that it was a desert fox. I know that because I saw it on ‘Go, Diego, Go!’” the TV cartoon.

An “animal blooper” video highlighted some of the funniest situations Mr. Hanna has been in over the past three decades.

“The grossest was when he kissed the orangutan,” Kyerin said.

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