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Former Columbus Zoo director Jack Hanna diagnosed with dementia, the family says



Jack served as both director and director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for 42 years. He retired in late December.

POWELL, Ohio – Jack Hanna has been diagnosed with dementia, according to a letter shared by his family on Wednesday.

He retired in December 2020 after serving as both director and director emeritus of Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for 42 years.

In the letter, Jack’s daughters Kathaleen, Suzanne and Julie Hanna declared that their father had been diagnosed with dementia, is now thought to be Alzheimer̵

7;s disease, and his condition developed much faster than expected in the last few months.

“Unfortunately, Dad is no longer able to participate in the public life he used to have, where people all over the world saw, learned and laughed with him,” his daughters wrote.

Jack’s daughters said that while his health is rapidly deteriorating, his great sense of humor continues to shine through.

A letter from the Hanna family

Today we reach out to share some personal Hanna Family news. Doctors have diagnosed our father, Jack Hanna, with dementia, which is now thought to be Alzheimer’s disease. His condition has developed much faster in the last few months than any of us could have expected. Unfortunately, Dad is no longer able to participate in the public life that he used to, where people all over the world saw, learned and laughed with him.

A passion for the conservation and education of wildlife has been at the core of who our father is and all that he has accomplished with the help of so many. He has spent his life connecting humans and wildlife because he has always believed that getting people to see and experience animals is the key to engaging them in more effective conservation efforts. He has always said, “You must touch the heart to learn the mind.” Although 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.

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium have been a big part of our lives since we moved to Central Ohio as young girls in 1978. From day one, Dad told of improved habitats and focused on connecting society with animals. After leaving his active leadership role as CEO in 1992, he continued to be a spokesman for the zoo until his retirement last year.

Dad engaged with millions of households through his media appearances and weekly TV shows – including Animal Adventures, Into the Wild and Wild Countdown. This allowed him to bring an unsurpassed level of awareness of the importance of global conservation given the tireless pressure on the natural environment. To say that we are very proud to be his daughters is an understatement.

Dad loves Columbus Zoo and The Wilds and greatly appreciates the hundreds of staff and volunteers who work extremely hard every day to care for the animals and ensure an incredible experience for the families who visit. We share his dedication to the central Ohio community and will continue to support Columbus Zoo and conservation efforts around the world.

Our mother – Suzi – has been by his side for 53 years in every corner of the world. She continues to be his rock (and ours too). We have great respect and admiration for Mom as we move through not only this difficult time with Dad, but also Julie’s lifelong challenges from her childhood leukemia as she is currently recovering from major surgery.

While Dad’s health is deteriorating rapidly, we can assure you that his great sense of humor continues to shine through. And yes – he still wears his khakis at home.

To keep everyone safe in the face of COVID-19 restrictions, we ask for privacy, which is ironic given Dad’s love of interacting with humans. We are grateful that the many hearts he has touched over the years are with him during this journey that gives us strength.

Thank you and we appreciate your understanding –

Kathaleen, Suzanne and Julie Hanna


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