Celebrity Zookeeper Jack Hanna Retires from Public Life After Dementia Diagnosis

Best known to American audiences for his many late-night talk show appearances, the family of celebrity zookeeper Jack Hanna has announced that he will no longer be making public appearances having recently been diagnosed with dementia. Hanna previously worked at The Columbus Zoo from 1978 to 1992 as Executive Director, transitioning to a spokesperson role from then until last year when he retired. In a letter revealing his diagnosis, the Hanna family wrote: "His condition has progressed much faster in the last few months than any of us could have anticipated. Sadly, Dad is no longer able to participate in public life as he used to, where people all over the world watched, learned and laughed alongside him."

The letter continues, "Dad engaged with millions of households through his media appearances and weekly television programs – including Animal Adventures, Into the Wild and Wild Countdown. This allowed him to bring an unparalleled level of awareness to the importance of global conservation given the unrelenting pressures on the natural environment. To say that we are abundantly proud to be his daughters is an understatement."

"While Dad'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...To keep everyone safe in light of COVID-19 restrictions, we are asking for privacy, which is ironic given Dad's love of interacting with people. We are grateful that the many hearts he's touched over the years are with him during this journey, which gives us strength."

Hanna first appeared on television with "Hanna's Ark," a local television program produced and aired in the Columbus market in the 1980s. From there he would appear on the local talk show The Bob Braun Show leading to his many appearances on shows like Late Night with David Letterman (and its successor, The Late Show), Good Morning America, and even Hollywood Squares. Hanna continued to make the rounds on television, presenting animals to live audiences and celebrities for years, with appearances on The Late Late Show with James Corden and GMA being his last.

In a previous interview with USA Today, Hanna recounted one of the times he appeared on Letterman's show which despite being fun for the audience was proof of why only professionals should handle live animals, especially on television.

“Letterman’s band starts playing a note and it scares the beaver,” Hanna told The Columbus Dispatch. “The beaver swings around and the tooth tore into my hand. There is a hole in my hand. I was in shock. Beyond shock. Blood squirting out like a hose. But Letterman didn’t see it. I turned and tried to hide it....I started to get lightheaded and felt like I was going to puke. I lasted for about 90 seconds until someone held up a cue card for Letterman and it says, `Jack has been severely bitten.’ (Letterman) said, `OK everyone, let’s take a break.’"


Clips of Hanna's many appearances on late night can be seen online with episodes of Jack Hanna's Into the Wild streaming on Hulu and some episodes of Jack Hanna's Wild Countdown streaming on HBO Max.

(Cover Photo by Ida Mae Astute/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)