Former zookeeper and conservationist Jack Hanna, known for his own TV shows and appearances throughout the late-night television world, has dementia, his family says. They believe it has progressed into Alzheimer's disease, and say he will retire from public life.
On April 7, his daughters shared a statement in which they said the 74-year-old's health has rapidly deteriorated over the last few months. Jack, who is known for his work with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, stepped down from his spokesperson role there last year. He had served as director and director emeritus of the institution since 1978.
"His condition has progressed much faster in the last few months than any of us could have anticipated," his daughters Kathaleen, Suzanne and Julie wrote in their statement. "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.
"A passion for wildlife conservation and education has been at the core of who our dad is and everything he accomplished with the help of so many. He 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... Even though Dad is no longer able to travel and work in the same way, we know that his infectious enthusiasm touched many hearts and will continue to be his legacy."
Along with the late Steve Irwin, Jack is one of the most well-known animal experts in the world – instantly recognizable, thanks to his Outback hat and khaki clothing. He will be particularly memorable to those who came of age in the 1980s and 1990s. In addition to his work with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, he also hosted the television shows Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures, Jack Hanna's Into the Wild and Jack Hanna's Wild Countdown.
Jack with animals from the Columbus Zoo on Good Morning America in 2017. Photo: © Lorenzo Bevilaqua/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images
He was also known for making appearances on numerous talk shows, such as Larry King Live, Maury, The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and The Late Late Show with James Corden. He was particularly known for bringing wildlife onto Letterman's show, thrilling viewers with everything from kangaroos to tigers on the set.
"[Dad's television appearances] allowed him to bring an unparalleled level of awareness to the importance of global conservation given the unrelenting pressures on the natural environment," his daughters wrote in their statement. "To say that we are abundantly proud to be his daughters is an understatement."
They went on to add that Suzi Egli, Jack's wife of 53 years, "continues to be his rock" and go through this difficult journey with him.
"While Dad's health has deteriorated quickly, we can assure you that his great sense of humour continues to shine through," they added. "And yes – he still wears his khakis at home."
We're sorry to hear this news, and we wish Jack and his family well.