Famed zookeeper and television host Jack Hanna has been diagnosed with dementia and will retire immediately, his family said in a statement on Wednesday.
The 74-year-old Hanna is believed to have Alzheimer’s disease that has quickly progressed in the last few months. He was director of the Columbus Zoo from 1978 to 1992 and still serves as its director emeritus.
“Dad advocated for improved wildlife habitats and focused on connecting the community with animals,” the statement signed by his three daughters said. Hanna continued to be a spokesperson for the zoo until he retired in 2020.
Hanna is well-known for live animal demonstrations on late night talk shows. For decades, he was a regular fixture on segments with Johnny Carson, David Letterman and James Corden. He would often use his time in front of the national audience to bring awareness for the protection of wildlife including endangered species.
Hanna’s wildly-popular syndicated TV show “Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures” aired from 1993 to 2008. The show was renamed and turned into an explorer type format called “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild,” which started in 2007, and then continued into “Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown” until last year.
“While Dad’s health has deteriorated quickly, we can assure you that his great sense of humor continues to shine through,” the statement said. “And yes, he still wears his khakis at home.”
Hanna’s family has asked for privacy during this difficult time.
“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 conversations,” his family said.
“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.”