SHADYSIDE - If it has to do with animals, Rick Prebeg has probably done it or seen it.
The Shadyside native has served as animal guru Jack Hanna's righthand man for more than 30 years. He has even earned the nickname "Ranger Rick" for his work with the world-renown Hanna.
"I was going to Ohio State and did an independent study project at the Columbus Zoo shortly after Jack had been named its director," the 1973 Shadyside High School graduate said of his connecting with Hanna.
"We've been together ever since. Working with Jack for so many years, I've experienced tons of fantastic adventures. Jack's tremendous drive and love for animals, along with his folksy style, has been a key to his success."
Prebeg's title is Project Manager/Production Specialist at Jungle Jack Productions.
"Most of my time is spent on the TV shows, 'Jack Hanna's Into the Wild' and 'Wild Countdown,'" Prebeg explained. "Our team comes up with a filming destination, and I organize the entire shoot for the film crew.
"This includes exploring all the possible animals and stories that may be filmed; developing our itinerary/shoot schedule; and making all the travel arrangements."
Speaking of travel, Prebeg has joined Hanna on trips to all seven continents.
So does he have any outstanding recollections?
"Wow! That's a really tough question," he quickly noted. "We travel internationally twice a year to film the TV series, and it seems that every trip is more exciting than the previous one."
He did say that there are several experiences that stand out above all the others.
"Filming mountain gorillas and being 15 feet away from them, and even closer at times, ranks right up there," he recalled. "Darting a black rhino with a tranquilizer was also a thrill.
"Then there was the time that I got to play with a 19-day-old baby rhino," he continued. "The Elephant Festival in Thailand was absolutely amazing, and filming baby manatees being bottle-fed in a sanctuary in the Peruvian Amazon was exciting.
"Hanging off the edge of Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) while a guide held my feet was exhilarating, and so was flying thousands of feet above Victoria Falls in a helicopter with the doors taken off while filming Jack flying below in an Ultralite."
Four other occasions that came to mind were tracking lions by foot; seeing wild orangutans in the jungles of Borneo; riding camels through the desert; and floating in the Dead Sea because the extremely high salt content makes it difficult to sink.
"Those are just a few, but there are so many more," the 1979 graduate of The Ohio State University said.
With all the adventures, has he ever had a close call?
"I've been charged by mountain gorillas and angry elephants, but, luckily, they've all stopped just short of me," he recalled.
Just when did Prebeg start liking animals?
"I loved animals all my life," he offered. "I especially remember the time a circus truck came to the old Gulf Gas Station just north of town hauling an elephant. I was about 8-10 years old and ran down there to see it. I even got to pet its trunk."
Prebeg handles all Hanna's still photography and all the wildlife photography, which has include various books, as well as the website, www.jackhanna.com. Additionally, he assists Hanna with writing projects and producing video segments for his speaking engagements.
In addition, Prebeg designs wildlife and cultural trips for people that enjoy traveling.
"I custom design trips for groups based on their interests, and recommend lots of special opportunities. This June I am leading a photo safari to Kenya (June 3-14). There are a few spots till open for anyone interested."
While Hanna will be appearing at Ohio University Eastern Monday as featured speaker at the 2012 Captina Creek Watershed Rally. Prebeg, unfortunately, won't be able to attend due to a prior commitment.
The event begins at 4 p.m. inside the Health and Physical Education Building. Hanna is scheduled to take the stage from 6-7 p.m.
Belmont County Commissioner Ginny Favede will once again serve as emcee for the event. A collection of 22 exhibitors featuring displays on wildlife conservation and education, as well as information on habitat quality in Captina Creek.
North can be reached at email@example.com.