Jack Hanna retires from public eye, diagnosed with dementia

Television personality and former Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Director Jack Hanna has been diagnosed with dementia, his family announced Wednesday.

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Hanna had retired in December from the zoo after serving as the organization’s director then director emeritus, WHIO reported.

The letter, released by Hanna’s daughters Kathaleen, Suzanne and Julie Hanna said that he had been diagnosed with dementia but they believe he has Alzheimer’s disease and that it is progressing quicker than they had expected.

“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,” they wrote in the letter posted to Twitter.

His fans took to social media to share their memories of meeting the animal advocate.

According to his official biography, Hanna got his start working with animals early in his life, helping his family’s veterinarian in Tennesse for several summers starting when he was 11. He went to Kiski School in Pennsylvania before attending Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, where he met his wife Suzi Egli and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

He opened a pet shop called Pet Kingdom in Knoxville, Tennessee, before he was given the job of directing Central Florida Zoo in Sanford, Florida. He held the position from 1973 until 1975 when a family illness forced him to leave, but in 1978 he answered a job posting for the director of the Columbus Zoo.

He said of the zoo:

“When I first started at the Columbus Zoo, attendance was low and the animal habitats were outdated. My top priority was to increase attendance by offering educational and entertaining events. As a result of these programs, more and more people started visiting the zoo.”

Hanna quickly became a television personality, first appearing on “Good Morning America” in 1983 to talk about the birth of twin gorillas at the zoo. He became a regular guest on GMA. He also appeared with his animals on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” visiting the show multiple times a year.

Hanna also appeared on “Larry King Live,” “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “Hollywood Squares,” “The Maury Show,” “Entertainment Tonight,” and Fox News and CNN.

Hanna helped start the Partners in Conservation group to help mountain gorillas in Rwanda starting in 1991. He and his wife also had a home in the African country.

In 1993 he started his own syndicated television series, starting with “Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures” then “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild” and “Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown.”

With all his television tours, he stepped down as the Columbus Zoo’s director, taking the title of director emeritus in 1992, a job that he continued to hold until late last year.