Jack Hanna, the zoo’s director famous for making live animal TV talk shows, has been diagnosed with dementia, his family said Wednesday.
Doctors think it’s Alzheimer’s, the family said in a statement.
“His condition has progressed much faster in recent months than we could ever have expected,” said his daughters.
“Unfortunately, my father can no longer participate in public life like he used to, where people all over the world watched, learned and laughed with him,” they said.
Hanna, 74, known as Jungle Jack, was director of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio, where he is still director emeritus.
He was known for bringing animals to TV hosts such as David Letterman and others, and to “Good Morning America” - where he first appeared with twin baby gorillas in 1983.
He also had his own TV shows, Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures, Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild and Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures.
Hanna, who always appeared in kakis, viewed the animals as ambassadors for those in the wild.
He was hired as director of the Columbus Zoo in 1978 and retired last year. The zoo has credited him with transforming an “obsolete collection of pens and buildings” into what it is today. The zoo is often cited as one of the best in the US.
The zoo said it was sad about the diagnosis and asked fans to join in sending letters of support to the family.
His daughters, Kathaleen, Suzanne, and Julie, wrote that their father believed that people who could see animals led them to become more involved in wildlife conservation.
“He has always said, ‘You must touch the heart to teach the mind,’” they wrote.
Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio said he, along with the state, sent the family best wishes and preserved them in their prayers.
Hanna’s daughters said they asked for privacy because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which they called ironic given their father’s love of interacting with people.
“Although Dad’s health has deteriorated rapidly, we can assure you that his great sense of humor still shines through,” his daughters wrote. “And yes – he still wears his khaki at home.”