Jack Hanna, Famed Zookeeper, to Retire at 74 After Dementia Diagnosis

Jack Hanna, beloved wildlife advocate and zookeeper, has been diagnosed with dementia, according to his family Wednesday. In a statement shared on social media detailing his condition, which they said is "now believed to be Alzheimer's," the wildlife expert and television personality's family also confirmed Hanna retired as director emeritus from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium last year and will retire from public life.

According to Hanna's daughters, Kathaleen, Suzanne, and Julie Hanna, Hanna's condition "progressed much faster in the last few months" than they expected and the 74-year-old is "no longer able to participate in public life as he used to." Along with serving as director of the zoo from 1978 to 1992, before he became director emeritus, Hanna also hosted three syndicated shows, including Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures, and appeared on numerous other shows. He also authored 15 books.

"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," his daughters wrote. "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."

The letter went on to highlight Hanna's "impactful" contributions to wildlife conversation efforts, writing that he "advocated for improved wildlife habitats and focused on connecting the community with animals." They said he "engaged with millions of households" through his various TV programs, allowing him to "bring an unparalleled level of awareness to the importance of global conservation." His daughters said they are "abundantly proud to be his daughters."

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The letter went on to speak of their mother Suzi, who married Hanna in 1968, "has been by his side for 53 years in every corner of the world." They said she "continues to be his rock (and ours, too)" and they "have great respect and admiration for Mom as we move through not only this difficult time with Dad, but also Julie's continued life-long challenges from her childhood leukemia, as she is currently recovering from major surgery."

The family ended the announcement by sharing that while Hanna'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 family asked for privacy and said they are "grateful that the many hearts he's touched over the years are with him during this journey."