Jack Hanna, the affable zookeeper and television movie who has brought an arsenal of exotic animals into Americans' living rooms, from an Andean condor to a wolverine, has dementia and will retire from public life, his family said.
In a letter shared on social media on Wednesday74-year-old Mr. Hanna's family said he had developed Alzheimer's disease and his condition had deteriorated rapidly in recent months.
"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," Mr. Hanna's three daughters said in the letter.
Last year, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio announced that Mr. Hanna would step down from his leadership role there after 42 years as director and director emeritus.
Outside the zoo, Jungle Jack Hanna, as he is known, has become a mainstay on television, from hosting his own Emmy-winning series during the day to his regular appearances on shows such as the "Late Show" with David Letterman and "Good Morning America. . "
In his signature khaki attire and leather outback hat, Mr. Hanna was joined on the shows by a cast of creatures from the curious to the cuddly, to which he gave top billing. Many of the encounters left the show's hosts squeamish, particularly Mr. Letterman, who The Columbus Dispatch reported Mr. Hanna has booked on his show over 100 times over 30 years.
The animal ensemble that appeared with Mr. Hanna on Mr. Letterman's show included a camel, penguins, electric eels, a leopard, and a cobra.
"As usual, I use a tick shampoo in preparation for his visit tonight," Mr. Letterman joked as he introduced Mr. Hanna on his show in September 1998.
According to The Dispatch, Mr. Hanna's first appearance on Mr. Letterman's show was in 1985. They developed a good rapport with each other, with Mr. Hanna often exchanging jokes with the television legend late at night and wild animals plopping onto the desk from Mr. Letterman.
"He has connected humans and wildlife throughout his life because he has always believed that showing and experiencing people is key to engaging them in more impactful conservation efforts," said the daughters of Mr. Hanna & # 39; s. "He always said," You must touch your heart to teach the mind. "
The announcement by Mr. Hanna's family on Wednesday provoked a torrent of tributes.
Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio said on Twitter that he and his wife, Fran, were sad when they heard of Mr. Hanna's diagnosis.
“Over the years Fran and I have had the opportunity to take our children and grandchildren to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and The Wilds,” wrote Mr. DeWine. "While there with Jack, we were lucky enough to experience his passion for animals and the natural world."
The Alzheimer's Association praised Mr. Hanna's family Twitter for the disclosure.
“We are grateful to Jack Hanna and his family for courageously sharing his diagnosis of dementia so that other families with Alzheimer's and other dementias know they are not alone,” the association said.
Hanna's first job, at age 11, was working for a veterinarian in his native Knoxville, Tennessee, where he developed his love and respect for animals, according to a biography on his websiteHe opened a pet store in Knoxville with his wife, Suzi, and became director of a small zoo in Sanford, Florida in 1973, according to his biography.
It was early on that Mr. Hanna also learned about the dangers wild animals can pose to humans.
In the early 1970s, a 3-year-old boy lost an arm when he was mauled by a lion in Mr. Hanna's property in Tennessee. according to The Dispatch
"That lives with me every day," Mr. Hanna told the newspaper in a video posted in 2018.
Mr. Hanna became the director of the Columbus Zoo in 1978 and director emeritus in 1992. He has written 15 books, according to the zoo, which includes an immersive exhibit named after Mr. Hanna and a fund after Mr. Hanna and his wife.
Mr. Hanna's family said he had interacted with millions of people through his television and media appearances over the years.
"This allowed him to create an unparalleled level of awareness about the importance of global conservation, given the unrelenting pressure on the natural environment," said his family.
Mr. Hanna's daughters said their father had not lost his sense of humor and his style had not changed.
"And yes," they said, "he still wears his khaki at home."