Columbus, OH

Jack Hannah, The Longtime Director Emeritus Of The Columbus Zoo, Steps Out Of Public Life

Jeryl Brunner

Jack Hanna, the beloved animal activist, author and longtime director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has been diagnosed with dementia, which is now believed to be Alzheimer’s disease. The 74-year-old’s family recently released a statement today with the news.

Courtesy The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Official Instagram @columbuszoo

“His condition has progressed much faster in the last few months than any of us could have anticipated,” said the statement signed by his three daughters. “Sadly, Dad is no longer able to participate in public life as he used to, where people all over the world watched, learned and laughed alongside him.”

Since 1983, when twin baby gorillas were born at the Columbus Zoo and he was invited to be on Good Morning America, “Jungle Jack” Hanna became a fixture on television. In 1985, he first appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman and would come back several times each year wowing and terrifying Letterman with all kinds of furry, feathered, scaly and slithering friends, from tigers to scorpions to snakes.

Hannah also made appearances on Larry King Live, Hollywood Squares, The Maury Show, Entertainment Tonight, FOX News, CNN and other shows as a wildlife correspondent. He always said that the animals he brought to TV were truly ambassadors to their cousins in the wilds and cared for by professionals.

Early on in his life Hannah had a deep passion for animals. His first job was working for his family’s veterinarian in Knoxville, Tennessee when he was 11. “I loved cleaning cages and being around all the animals. I worked with Dr. Roberts for several summers and developed a love and respect for animals,” he wrote on his website. And in his book, Jack Hanna, Monkeys on the Interstate: And Other Tales from Americas Favorite Zookeeper, he further explained, “If you can somehow enjoy cleaning out their cages, then you know you genuinely love animals.”

After he married his wife, Suzi, they opened a pet shop, Pet Kingdom, in Knoxville. In 1978, after directing small zoos in Florida. He answered an ad for a zoo director in Columbus, Ohio. “From day one, Dad advocated for improved wildlife habitats and focused on connecting the community with animals,” wrote his three daughter in a statement. In fact, in 1992, after he left his active management role as the zoo’s executive director, Hanna remained a spokesperson for the zoo until his retirement last year.

Before becoming Director Emeritus Hannah served as the Columbus Zoo’s director from 1978 to 1992. He wrote authored 15 books and for years was the “go to” wildlife correspondent as he shared amazing animals with audiences around the world. He is beloved by his wife, daughters, grandchildren, the zoo community and millions as he made a difference for wildlife.

Devoted to educating people about animals and conservation, in 1993, he hosted the nationally syndicated series, Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures. Next he created the TV series, Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild, which won three Emmy awards. His most recent TV show was Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown, which showed the world’s rarest, most endearing animals.

Hannah's passion for wildlife conservation and education was always at the core of his being. "He has spent his life connecting people and wildlife because he has always believed that having people see and experience animals is key to engaging them in more impactful conservation efforts," wrote his daughters in the statement. "He’s always said, “You have to touch the heart to teach the mind.'” Even though Dad is no longer able to travel and work in the same way, we know that his infectious enthusiasm has touched many hearts and will continue to be his legacy."

His children added that they were "abundantly proud" to be Hannah's daughters. “While Dad’s health has deteriorated quickly, we can assure you that his great sense of humor continues to shine through. We are grateful that the many hearts he’s touched over the years are with him during this journey, which gives us strength," they wrote. "And yes, he still wears his khakis at home.”

Comments / 46

Published by

New York based journalist who has written for Forbes, Parade, InStyle, National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and The Wall Street Journal. Author of the book "My City, My New York, Famous New Yorkers Share Their Favorite Places" and podcaster, ("When Lightning Strikes"). I cover the arts, theater, entertainment, food, travel and people who are motivated by their joy and passion.

New York City, NY

More from Jeryl Brunner

Comments / 0