Jack Hanna

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Jack Hanna
Jack Bushnell Hanna

(1947-01-02) January 2, 1947 (age 77)[1]
Other namesJungle Jack
EducationThe Kiski School[2]
Alma materMuskingum University (BA)[2]
Years active1973–2020
Notable workJack Hanna's Animal Adventures
Jack Hanna's Into the Wild
Jack Hanna's Wild Countdown
Suzi Egli
(m. 1968)

Jack Bushnell Hanna (born January 2, 1947) is a retired American zookeeper and a former director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. "Jungle Jack"[3] was director of the zoo from 1978 to 1992, and is viewed as largely responsible for elevating its quality and reputation. His media appearances, particularly with David Letterman, James Corden, Good Morning America, and Maury Povich have made him one of the most notable animal experts in the United States.

Early life[edit]

Hanna was born in Knoxville, Tennessee.[1] He grew up on his family's farm and volunteered for the family veterinarian, Dr. Roberts, when he was 11. He attended The Kiski School, an all-boys boarding school in Saltsburg, Pennsylvania, for high school, graduating in 1965.[2] He majored in business and political science at Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, where he got in trouble for keeping ducks in his dorm room and a donkey in a shed behind his fraternity house (The M.A.C.E. Club).[2] In his senior year, Hanna married Suzi, a cheerleader at Muskingum, and graduated in 1968.[2]


Hanna (left) reenlists Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Richard Youhan with Seamore, the sea lion

Although unable to secure zoning as a zoo for his family's farm, Hanna and Suzi opened a pet shop and petting zoo. In 1972, a three-year-old boy was mauled by a lion at Hanna's farm after the boy slipped past the protective barrier and stuck his arm through the enclosure fence, subsequently losing the arm.[4][5] Hanna settled a later lawsuit out of court, shut down the petting zoo, and moved his family to Florida.[6]

He worked for a wildlife adventure company and directed the small Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens from 1973 to 1975. When he was offered the position at the Columbus Zoo in 1978, one of the reasons he accepted was because he believed Columbus Children's Hospital had the best treatment available for his daughter Julie's leukemia. She recovered by the age of six, although she needed to have a brain tumor removed later in life. At the time he became the zoo's director, the grounds of the zoo were unkempt and the facilities run down. Hanna initially struck many as a "zealous" zoo director, often traveling around the zoo grounds after closing to personally pick up trash. He also realized the importance of increasing the profile of the Columbus Zoo in central Ohio to get more public support and funding, and the "everyman"-seeming Hanna proved to be very well-suited to public relations for the zoo. From 1981 to 1983, Hanna hosted a local television program, "Hanna's Ark", which aired on the local CBS affiliate in Columbus, WBNS. Hanna's live animal demonstrations on Good Morning America and David Letterman's talk show incarnations brought national attention to the Columbus Zoo as well as to Hanna himself. Over the course of Hanna's tenure as director, the zoo made the transition from cage-like enclosures to habitat environments, and the grounds were significantly expanded. The annual attendance of the Columbus Zoo increased by over 400% during this time. Hanna was named director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in 1992.[7]

Hanna published his autobiography, Monkeys on the Interstate, in 1989. He has published many books for children as well. He has hosted the syndicated television shows Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures, Jack Hanna's Into the Wild, and Jack Hanna's Wild Countdown, all produced and distributed by Litton Entertainment. Hanna also occasionally contributed commentary as an animal expert on various local and national news programs, and has done guest spots on other shows such as Larry King Live, Nancy Grace, Maury, and The Hollywood Squares. On September 25, 2003, Jack made a special guest appearance on an episode of Blue's Clues (season 5, episode 35, "Animals in Our House?"). He was also named one of the "50 Most Beautiful People" by People magazine in 1996.[8] Hanna also appeared in Neal McCoy's 2005 music video for "Billy's Got His Beer Goggles On" with a hyacinth macaw, a sloth and an albino burmese python. Hanna, along with Emmy Award-winning musician Mark Frye, released an album through Virgin Records in 1996 entitled Jack Hanna's World.

He was granted honorary doctorates from Muskingum University, Otterbein College, Capital University, and Ohio University.

On October 19, 2011, Hanna assisted Ohio police in tracking down several escaped exotic animals near Zanesville, Ohio. Hanna provided police assistance with expertise in tracking down the animals, which included lions, leopards, wolves, primates, bears, and eighteen tigers.[6]

In May 2018 at the Los Angeles Zoo's annual Beastly Ball, Hanna received the Tom Mankiewicz Leadership Award for his work in conservation.[9]

In June 2020, Hanna announced his retirement from the Columbus Zoo effective at the end of the year.[10]

Criticism of Copenhagen Zoo giraffe culling[edit]

Hanna criticized the killing of the healthy eighteen-month-old giraffe Marius in Copenhagen Zoo, which was killed rather than offered for adoption after being classified as genetically over-represented in zoo breeding programs. Hanna said this would not happen in an American zoo.[11] Soon after, he raised money to prevent a separate male giraffe culling at the Jyllands Park Zoo, which is also in Denmark, where zookeepers had said they might kill the giraffe if they brought in some females for breeding.[12][13] Hanna said he was willing to provide refuge including transport for this giraffe.[12] The Jyllands Park Zoo later stated that they did not actually plan to bring in a new female or to kill the male that was at the facility.[14]


In 2019, Hanna was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He retired from public life in 2021, and he and his wife, Suzi, moved to Montana.[15] In April 2021, Hanna's family publicly announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and would make no further public appearances.[16][17] His daughters stated that "his condition has progressed much faster in the last few months than any of us could have anticipated".[3] By 2023, Hanna's Alzheimer's disease had progressed to the point where he no longer recognized most family members.[18]

Allegation of improper animal trading practices[edit]

On April 6, 2021,[19][20] filmmakers of an independent documentary, The Conservation Game, alleged that the Columbus Zoo and former zoo director Jack Hanna misrepresented where his ambassador animals had been acquired from or had been transferred to and that the zoo had been dealing with unaccredited private facilities that, in some cases, may not have provided appropriate animal care.[21] The documentary directly connected Hanna to exploiting immunocompromised animal cubs, including snow leopards, with some of the cubs he used dying at early ages or disappearing from record, despite Hanna's assurances that the cats were healthy and safe.[citation needed]

Zoo officials responded to the documentary by cutting ties with most of the unaccredited private institutions named in the documentary. Former zoo official Suzi Rapp defended one of the private institutions, saying that the lack of certification of the facility does not necessarily indicate that the institution is not a good facility.[21] Hanna's family released a statement saying they had not seen the documentary, could not speak for him, and could not consult him on the matter due to the effects of his dementia.[22]


  1. ^ a b "Jack Hanna: Writer, Conservationist, Television Personality (1947–)". Biography.com. A&E Networks. Archived from the original on June 17, 2018. Jack Bushnell Hanna was born on January 2, 1947, in Knoxville, Tennessee.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "About — Jack Hanna". Jack Hanna. Retrieved April 25, 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Beloved animal expert Jack Hanna has dementia, steps away from public life". NBC News. Retrieved April 8, 2021.
  4. ^ "Lion chews off child's arm at Jack Hanna's house in Knoxville, Tennessee". The Jackson Sun. July 23, 1972. p. 12. Retrieved December 5, 2020.
  5. ^ "Interviews With Jack Hanna, Ryan Seacrest". Larry King Live. CNN. January 6, 2004.
  6. ^ a b "For Hanna, pain at animals' death was too personal". The Columbus Dispatch. October 26, 2011. Retrieved April 27, 2013.
  7. ^ "About Jack Hanna". Retrieved August 19, 2016.
  8. ^ "Beautiful Through the Years". People. Retrieved March 23, 2011.
  9. ^ "On the Town: Beastly Ball raises funds for L.A. Zoo". Burbank Leader. May 22, 2018.
  10. ^ Wagner, Mike (June 11, 2020). "Jack Hanna plans to retire from Columbus Zoo". The Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved June 12, 2020.
  11. ^ Jack Hanna lashes out at Copenhagen zoo. cnn. February 10, 2014. Archived from the original on February 22, 2014. Retrieved February 14, 2014.
  12. ^ a b "No excuse for euthanization". CNN. February 13, 2013.
  13. ^ "Jack Hanna raises cash to save 2nd giraffe". The Columbus Dispatch. February 13, 2014.
  14. ^ "Danish Zoo Spares Second Giraffe Named Marius". Time. February 18, 2014.
  15. ^ "Jack Hanna's long goodbye: How Alzheimer's is stripping away the man the world once knew". The Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved June 21, 2023.
  16. ^ France, Lisa Respers (April 7, 2021). "Jack Hanna, beloved animal expert, stepping away because of dementia". CNN. Retrieved April 7, 2021.
  17. ^ "Jack Hanna diagnosed with dementia that has progressed into Alzheimer's, daughters say". Q13 FOX. April 7, 2021. Retrieved April 7, 2021.
  18. ^ France, Lisa Respers (June 22, 2023). "Jack Hanna's Alzheimer's has progressed to the point he no longer recognizes most family members". CNN. Retrieved June 22, 2023.
  19. ^ Real Screen April 6, 2021 https://realscreen.com/2021/04/06/exclusive-cargo-takes-world-rights-to-michael-webbers-the-conservation-game/
  20. ^ Ed Hat Santa Barbara April 6, 2021 https://www.edhat.com/news/film-review-the-conservation-game
  21. ^ a b Widman Neese, Alissa; Smola Shaffer, Jennifer. "Conservation Game documentary ties Columbus Zoo, Jack Hanna to unchecked big cat trade". The Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved December 3, 2021.
  22. ^ Smola, Alissa Widman Neese and Jennifer (July 1, 2021). "Columbus Zoo drops some animal vendors after Jack Hanna's inclusion in 'The Conservation Game' documentary". The Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved December 3, 2021.

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