The world famous Jack Hanna on Tuesday celebrated 40 years at the Columbus Zoo.
Hanna moved from the Central Florida Zoo to the Columbus Zoo because he believed Children’s Hospital in Columbus could provide the best care for his six-year-old daughter, Julie, who had leukemia, he said.
Julie got better and the Columbus Zoo would never be the same.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium consistently ranks in the top three zoos in the world, due in part to the man who put the zoo on the map — Jack Hanna.
“Educating people in a fun way and that’s what we do at our zoo,” Hanna said.
It didn’t always look like this.
When Hanna started in 1978, he walked into an unkempt, run-down zoo with metal and concrete cages. Today, it’s a lush collection of expansive natural habitats. The zoon also has 7,000 animals and has more than 2 million visitors per year.
The influx of money and visitors was an outgrowth of Hanna’s masterful marketing.
He was a regular guest on CBS’ Late Night with David Letterman, which launched Hanna to the national stage.
He used the show and his celebrity to sell the zoo to the world.
“It’s one of those Cinderella stories isn’t it? To get here with basically nothing,” Hanna said. “… It’s beyond Cinderella. It’s beyond anything anyone and I … could have ever imagined.”
Even as the director emeritus, Hanna continues to invite the world to Columbus.
“I counted 15 states here, 15 states the day before yesterday signing autographs, 15 different states of people who came here to see the Columbus Zoo, who would have ever thought that in a million years,” Hanna said.