Animal Expert Jack Hanna Steps Away From Public Life Due to Dementia

"Jungle Jack" is known for making people laugh while they learn about wildlife.

Jack Hanna At The ''Late Show With David Letterman'' - May 5, 2010
Jack Hanna arrives at the "Late Show With David Letterman" in May 2010. Donna Ward / Getty Images

Nobody could make talk show hosts laugh like Jack Hanna.

The animal expert and conservationist would bring one of his wildlife friends to visit a set and they would often clamber all over the desk and the host. All the while, Hanna would educate viewers about endangered species, habitats, and how to save them.

He'd sneak in all that animal education while entertaining people with scorpions, lemurs, and big cats.

Now, "Jungle Jack" Hanna is retiring from public life due to dementia, his family announced.

"Doctors have diagnosed our dad, Jack Hanna, with dementia, now believed to be Alzheimer's disease," his family wrote in a statement posted to his Twitter account and his website.

"His condition has progressed much faster in the last few months than any of us could have anticipated," the statement said. "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."

Signed by his daughters Kathaleen, Suzanne, and Julie Hanna, the statement continued:

"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."

Hanna, 76, is probably best known as the host of the Emmy Award-winning "Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild" and other programs including "Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures" and "Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown." He's been a wildlife correspondent for the "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," "Late Show with David Letterman Show," "Good Morning America," "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and so many more.

Hanna first got his start in the animal world as director of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Columbus, Ohio, in the 1970s. He later became director emeritus in 1992 when his media appearances became such a big part of his career. Hanna retired from the zoo in a virtual ceremony in December 2020 after 42 years.

"The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has been a major part of our lives since we moved to Central Ohio as young girls in 1978," his daughters wrote in their statement. "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."

The statement mentioned his wife Suzi, who "has been by his side for 53 years in every corner of the world."

"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," the statement said.

"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."

View Article Sources
  1. "My Wild Life." Jack Hanna.

  2. Neede, Alissa Widman. "Jack Hanna's retirement celebration at Columbus Zoo to be virtual only." The Columbus Dispatch, 2020.