COLUMBUS, Ohio – Jack Hanna has been diagnosed with dementia, now believed to be Alzheimer's disease, Hanna's three daughters announced in a letter published Wednesday afternoon.
Hanna — the 74-year-old internationally known, khaki-loving director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium — has spent more than four decades in the public eye putting Columbus and its zoo's conservation efforts on the national stage.
Now, Hanna's daughters — Kathaleen, Suzanne and Julie — say their dad is unable to participate in public life as he once did as his condition has severely worsened in the last few months.
"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," the Hannas wrote. "He 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."
Hanna was born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he housed exotic animals on a spot on his dad's property called Hanna's Ark. He became director of the Columbus Zoo in 1978, a move that many credit Hanna for in revitalizing the zoo and putting Columbus' conservation efforts on the map.
Hanna's popularity grew as he took his work on the road, from classrooms to the set of "Late Night with David Letterman." In 2018, Hanna's calendar had him traveling 220 days a year. Millions of households also tune in to one of Hanna's weekly TV programs — including Animal Adventures, Into the Wild and Wild Countdown — and have him bring animal conservation into their living rooms.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium now is home to more than 10,000 animals, spans 588 acres and attracted 2.3 million visitors last year.
"To say that we are abundantly proud of our dad is an understatement," the Hannas wrote.
"While Dad's health has deteriorated quickly, we can assure you that his great sense of humor continues to shine through," Hanna's daughters wrote. "And yes — he still wears khakis at home."©2021 www.dispatch.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.