Famed Animal Expert Jack Hanna Diagnosed With Dementia

Carolyn Crist

April 08, 2021

Jack Hanna, the director emeritus of Ohio's Columbus Zoo and Aquarium known for his many TV appearances, has been diagnosed with dementia, his family announced Wednesday in a post on Twitter.

His condition is now believed to be Alzheimer's disease, the family wrote. Hanna, 74, announced his retirement last year.

"His condition has progressed much faster in the last few months than any of us could have anticipated," his daughters Kathaleen, Suzanne and Julie Hanna wrote in the letter.

"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.

Jack Hanna

Hanna often appeared on "Good Morning America," "The Tonight Show," "Late Show," "Late Late Show," "Larry King Live," "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and "Maury." He also hosted his own weekly TV programs, including "Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures," "Jack Hanna's Into the Wild," and "Jack Hanna's Wild Countdown."

Hanna joined the Columbus Zoo in 1978. He is credited with transforming the zoo from an "aging collection of pens and buildings" into what it is today — often listed as one of the best zoos in the U.S., according to NBC News.

"While Jack retired from his official role at the end of 2020, his legacy will be ever-present in our work as we continue to fulfill our organization's mission to lead and inspire by connecting people and wildlife," the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium told CBS News.

The family said that Hanna spent his life connecting with wildlife and people because he believed that seeing and experiencing animals was the "key to engaging them in more impactful conservation efforts." The media appearances allowed him to bring awareness to global conservation and the natural environment, they wrote.

Hanna is no longer able to travel and work in the same way as before, the family added, but they hope his enthusiasm will continue a legacy. At the Columbus Zoo, Hanna advocated for improved wildlife habitats and connection between animals and humans. After he left the role of executive director in 1992, he continued to be a spokesman for the zoo until retirement.

His wife, Suzi, has been by his side for 53 years and continues to be the family's "rock," his daughters wrote in the letter. They asked for privacy during this time, especially due to safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic, and thanked readers and viewers for their ongoing support.

"While Dad's health has deteriorated quickly, we can assure you that his great sense of humor continues to shine through," they wrote. "And yes — he still wears his khakis at home."


Jack Hanna, "Twitter post at 12:59 p.m. on April 7, 2021: A Letter from the Hanna Family."

NBC News, "Beloved animal expert Jack Hanna has dementia, steps away from public life."

CBS News, "Celebrity zookeeper Jack Hanna diagnosed with dementia, family says."