Celebrity zookeeper Jack Hanna handles all kinds of wild animals when he takes them on national television shows. He's just as animated when he flips through the new collection of animal cards being handed out free to shoppers at Winn-Dixie stores in South Mississippi.
Through May 2, customers receive a four-pack of Animals of America collector cards with every $20 purchase at Winn-Dixie, while supplies last. Animals of America collector posters also are free at all Winn-Dixie, BI-LO and Harvey stores and the cards can be organized into a collector's album available for $4 each.
Hanna has all 54 of the cards, and a comment about each as he talks to the Sun Herald.
Hanna, who has operated zoos and written several books about animals, said he is captivated with the new cards. They feature animals of North America including salamanders and frogs area kids will see in their own yards.
"I wish I thought of them," Hanna said of the cards, reciting the facts that are printed on each and adding more information from personal experience. "It teaches the kids about the animals that live where you live."
Southeastern Grocers, parent company of Winn-Dixie, worked with zoologists at the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens in Florida to create cards from six habitats: coast, swamp, desert, mountains, home states and backyard.
Kids will find Southern species such as the Florida panther, American alligator, southern flying squirrel and the roseate spoonbill. "Hero" animals for each of the seven states in the Southeastern Grocers' footprint features animals from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi -- including the bottlenose dolphin, which lives off the coast of South Mississippi.
It was baseball cards that Hanna recalls trading with his friends as a kid. The animal cards "will make a difference in these kids' lives, not just the animal lives," he said, and what they will learn "is not just important -- it's critical."
The black bear in Florida was almost gone and alligator numbers were dwindling and now both are making comebacks, he said. But 40 percent of amphibians have been lost in 50 years and only about 6,000 manatees are left in the world.
Kids know about lions and kangaroos but he said they aren't as aware of the bat featured on the cards and how many insects it eats. "Without bats, we'd have a disaster you wouldn't believe," he said.
"With the Animals of America program, we have an opportunity to educate our children and get families talking about some of the natural wonders that make our home in the Southeast such a special and unique place," said Sharry Cramond, Southeastern Grosers' executive vice president of marketing and communications. The promotion includes products that will provide bonus cards and entertaining and educational videos in the stores.