Beloved Animal Expert Jack Hanna Steps Away From "Public Life" After Dementia Diagnosis

"While Dad's health has deteriorated quickly, we can assure you that his great sense of humor continues to shine through," the wildlife expert's family shared in a statement on April 7.

By Alyssa Morin Apr 07, 2021 9:51 PMTags
Jack Hanna, Los Angeles Zoo Association's 2018 Beastly BallMichael Tullberg/Getty Images

Beloved animal and wildlife expert, Jack Hanna, has been diagnosed with dementia, his family announced on Wednesday, April 7.

The 74-year-old star's daughters, Kathaleen, Suzanne and Julie disclosed their father's diagnosis, while also explaining that he will be stepping away from the spotlight due to his illness.

"Doctors have diagnosed our dad, Jack Hanna, with dementia, now believed to be Alzheimer's disease," Jack's family wrote in a statement that was shared on the star's official Twitter account. "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," their statement continued, "where people all over the world watched, learned, and laughed alongside him."

The wildlife expert rose to fame after frequently appearing—with exotic animals no less—on talk shows such as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Good Morning America, Late Night with David Letterman, Maury and many others.

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He also earned the nickname "Jungle Jack" and served as director of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for over a decade. He officially retired from his conservation duties in December 2020.

"The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has been a major part of our lives since we moved to Central Ohio as young girls in 1978," Jack's family said in their statement. "From day one, Dad advocated for improved wildlife habitats and focused on connecting the community with animals. After he left his active management role as Executive Director in 1992, he continued to be a spokesperson for the zoo until his retirement last year."

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Following the news about Jack's health, the Columbus Zoo shared a statement on Twitter.

"We're saddened by the latest news of Jungle Jack's dementia diagnosis, now believed to be Alzheimer's disease, and Julie's health complications that were shared today in a heartfelt letter written by Jack's daughters," their message read. "Please join us in sending messages of support for the Hannas."

The family letter also disclosed that Jack's daughter, Julie, is battling "life-long continued challenges from her childhood leukemia, as she is currently recovering from major surgery."  

Additionally, the animal expert's children also honored their mother, who has been married to Jack since 1968.

"Our mom—Suzi—has been by his side for 53 years in every corner of the world," their message read. "She continues to be his rock (and ours, too). We have great respect and admiration for Mom."

The family noted that although their dad plans to retire from public life, "we know that his infectious enthusiasm has touched many hearts and will continue to be his legacy."

"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," the family shared. "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."