The director emeritus is hanging up his signature hat after 42 years of raising the zoo's profile and educating the world about animals.
After 42 years at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Jungle Jack Hanna is retiring.
The zoo announced June 11 that Hanna’s last day will be Dec. 31. He will retain the title of director emeritus, and his name will continue to be used, including on the revamped Jack Hanna’s Animal Encounters Village set to open this summer as part of the new Adventure Cove region.
“The Man in Khaki,” as he came to be known, joined the zoo in 1978 and grew into a beloved figure not only in Central Ohio, but internationally. In addition to having his own shows, including the currently airing Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild, he frequently made other media appearances to educate audiences about animals and the zoo. His 102 appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman were the stuff of TV legend, with the host making jokes at Hanna’s expense and the animals occasionally running amok. But the segments did a lot to help raise the profile of Hanna and of the Columbus Zoo. His final appearance on April 29, 2015, before Letterman retired was a clip-filled treat that brought Hanna to tears.
“As I approach my mid-70s with more than four decades at the Columbus Zoo, I believe it is time to wind down and officially step back while CEO Tom Stalf and the zoo’s great leadership team continue to guide the zoo into the future. Together with many friends and partners, we’ve come a long way to make the world a better place for people and wildlife!” Hanna said in the announcement.
According to the zoo, Hanna came to Ohio in 1965 to attend Muskingum University bringing his pet donkey to live with him in a fraternity house. It was there that he met his wife, Suzi, whom he married in 1968.
Hanna was named director of the Columbus Zoo in 1978—a job he held until 1992, when he became the director emeritus. He also has written 15 books over the years.
“Suzi and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of the Central Ohio community and Columbus Zoo and Aquarium family. Our 42 years at the Columbus Zoo have been the best of our lives—we’ve raised our daughters here and had the honor of revitalizing our zoo alongside a great team while being advocates for wildlife worldwide. We look forward to supporting the Columbus Zoo for many years to come—while taking some much needed down time with our family along the way,” Hanna said.Get top reads, feature stories, guides, parenting trends and more ideas for family fun. Subscribe to Columbus Parent’s weekly e-newsletter, The Bulletin.
The zoo will host multiple activities celebrating Hanna through the remainder of the year, including the annual Jack Hanna Weekend (Oct. 3-4) and Jack Hanna’s Home for the Holidays (Dec.12). More events will be announced later at columbuszoo.org.
“I’ve worked with Jack for over 25 years, and witness how he engages people from around the world as they travel to meet him and hear his stories. He has created so many memories and smiles for people with his authenticity and down-to-earth (and larger-than-life!) personality. Jack is a true celebrity and professional. I’ve never met any who is as true, real, wholesome, honest and loving as Jack and Suzi Hanna,” Stalf said in the announcement.
“Jack has inspired many people to learn and care about a variety of species around the world, resulting in positive impacts on wildlife and wild places. For Jack, that is the best legacy of all. I’m grateful to Jack for giving me and so many others the opportunity and vision to focus on conservation, animal welfare and people. The Columbus Zoo will always be the home of Jack Hanna,” Stalf said.
The Jack and Suzi Hanna Fund, established in 2018, also will continue. The zoo established the fund to support wildlife conservation and education.