COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The family of Jack Hanna announced Wednesday that the former Columbus Zoo director will no longer be able to participate in public life after a dementia diagnosis, which is believed to be Alzheimer’s.
Hanna’s family revealed the diagnosis in a letter posted on social media Tuesday.
“Doctors have diagnosed our dad, Jack Hanna, with dementia, now believed to be Alzheimer’s disease,” the letter read. “His condition has progressed much faster in the last few months than any of us could have anticipated. Sadly, Dad is no longer able to participate in public life as he used to.”
Hanna, 74, was credited with making the Columbus Zoo nationally known during his time as its director from 1978 to ’92, becoming a familiar face on national television in the process. He moved into an emeritus role before announcing his retirement at the end of 2020.
A social media post by the zoo said, “We’re saddened by the latest news of Jungle Jack’s dementia diagnosis, now believed to be Alzheimer’s disease,” and Gov. Mike DeWine said in a statement, “Along with our fellow Ohioans, we wish Jack, Suzi, and their daughters our best as they navigate the challenges of this disease and will be keeping them in our prayers.”
Hanna was born in Tennessee and came to Ohio in 1965 to attend Muskingum University. He met his wife, Suzi, there, and they married in 1968.
In a news release announcing his retirement last year, Hanna said, “Suzi and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of the Central Ohio community and Columbus Zoo and Aquarium family. Our 42 years at the Columbus Zoo have been the best of our lives—we’ve raised our daughters here and had the honor of revitalizing our Zoo alongside a great team while being advocates for wildlife worldwide.”
Hanna was also the author of 15 books.
The diagnosis comes one day after details of a scandal involving zoo leadership became public. A report showed that CEO Tom Stalf and CFO Greg Bell used their positions to attend entertainment events and used zoo-owned property for personal use, and that Stalf awarded a no-bid contract that had substantial cost overruns. Both recently resigned their positions, and the investigation is ongoing.
Here is the complete letter from the Hanna family:
A Letter from the Hanna Family
Today, we reach out to share some personal Hanna Family news. Doctors have diagnosed our dad, Jack Hanna, with dementia, now believed to be Alzheimer’s disease. His condition has progressed much faster in the last few months than any of us could have anticipated. 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.
A passion for wildlife conservation and education has been at the core of who our dad is and everything he has accomplished with the help of so many. 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. 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.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has been a major pan of our lives since we moved to Central Ohio as young girls in 1978. From day one, Dad advocated for improved wildlife habitats and focused on connecting the community with animals. After he left his active management role as Executive Director in 1992, he continued to be a spokesperson for the zoo until his retirement last year.
Dad engaged with millions of households through his media appearances and weekly television programs — including Animal Adventures, Into the Wild and Wild Countdown. This allowed him to bring an unparalleled level of awareness to the importance of global conservation given the unrelenting pressures on the natural environment. To say that we are abundantly proud to be his daughters is an understatement.
Dad loves the Columbus Zoo and The Wilds and has great appreciation for the hundreds of employees and volunteers, who work extremely hard each day to care for the animals and ensure an incredible experience for the families who visit. We share his dedication to the Central Ohio community and will continue to support the Columbus Zoo and conservation efforts around the world.
Our mom — Suzi — has been by his side for 53 years in every corner of the world. She continues to be his rock (and ours, too). We have great respect and admiration for Mom as we move through not only this difficult time with Dad, but also Julie’s continued life-long challenges from her childhood leukemia, as she is currently recovering from major surgery.
While Dad’s health has deteriorated quickly, we can assure you that his great sense of humor continues to shine through. And yes — he still wears his khakis at home.
To keep everyone safe in light of COVID-19 restrictions, we are asking for privacy, which is ironic given Dad’s love of interacting with people. We are grateful that the many hearts he’s touched over the years are with him during this journey, which gives us strength.
Thank you, and we appreciate your understanding — Kathaleen, Suzanne and Julie Hanna
Here is Gov. Mike DeWine’s statement:
“Fran and I were very sad to learn of Jack Hanna’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s that his family so bravely shared with Ohio and the world today.
Over the years, Fran and I have had the opportunity to take our kids and grandkids to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and The Wilds. When we were there with Jack, we were so fortunate to experience his passion for animals and the natural world.
Along with our fellow Ohioans, we wish Jack, Suzi, and their daughters our best as they navigate the challenges of this disease and will be keeping them in our prayers.”