POWELL — Jungle Jack Hanna has called the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium home since 1978, serving tirelessly as both director and director emeritus over his 42 years in central Ohio. He has not only delighted and educated international television audiences during his countless media appearances but has also changed the role zoos play in their communities and globally.
And now, Jack Hanna is channeling his energy into a new role. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and the Hanna family are announcing Jack’s retirement at the end of the year, with his last day on Dec. 31. Out of respect for the many people whose lives the Hannas have touched, this news is being shared now to give the community ample time throughout the rest of the year to celebrate and thank Jack and Suzi. Jack’s career and leadership transformed the zoo and set it on the course to be one of the world’s most successful and influential zoos. The zoo celebrates its shared history with Jack and the wonderful memories of the positive impacts made for wildlife, people working to help endangered species and members of our local and global communities.
“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!” said Jack.
Jack first arrived in Ohio in 1965 to attend Muskingum University — always the animal lover, he even brought his pet donkey with him to live in the fraternity house. While at Muskingum, Jack met his wife, Suzi, and they married in 1968.
Just 10 years later, Jack was asked to serve as director of a little-known zoo in Columbus, Ohio. The Hannas never anticipated the adventures ahead but, together, they were perfectly positioned to lead the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and the entire zoological world into the 21st century.
Jack served as the Columbus Zoo’s director from 1978 to 1992 before becoming director emeritus. He has authored 15 books, hosted several televisions series, has been the media’s “go to” wildlife correspondent and permeated pop culture while sharing amazing animals with audiences nationwide. He is beloved by his wife, daughters, grandchildren, the zoo community and millions around the world, whose hearts he has touched with his genuine enthusiasm, superhuman energy and passion for making a difference for wildlife.
While Jack will be stepping back from a public role and official duties to spend more time with his family, he will retain the title “director emeritus” and he maintains that he will always be the Zoo’s #1 fan.
“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!”
Tom Stalf, who became the Columbus Zoo president/CEO in 2012, said he proudly carries on the zoo’s legacy of global and local wildlife conservation that Jack and Suzi Hanna built.
“I am honored to work for the Columbus Zoo and The Wilds and to lead an incredibly dedicated team of people, who continue to embody Jack’s passion for wildlife,” said Stalf. “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,” he said. “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. Thanks to the impact he has made on all of us, we continue to work to ‘touch the heart to teach the mind’ as we fulfill our mission to ‘lead and inspire by connecting people and wildlife.’”
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Board Chair Chad Jester said he admires the meaningful impacts that Jack’s dedication and passion have made both locally and globally.
“Anyone who has had the opportunity to meet Jack, or see one of his television shows, knows he cares about people every bit as much as he does wildlife. His tireless efforts to develop and nurture community relationships and share educational opportunities provided the strong foundation on which the Columbus Zoo’s programs were built. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium leadership, as well as the dedicated teams at the zoo and its properties, will continue to honor Jack’s legacy for years to come,” said Jester.
Fans of Jack and Suzi will still have time to wish them well on their next chapter and continue to honor their legacy in a variety of ways, including:
Special Events at the Columbus Zoo — Please join us at the zoo to celebrate Jack in person during Jack Hanna Weekend (Oct. 3-4) and Jack Hanna’s Home for the Holidays (Dec. 12). There will be an array of activities and animal adventures that will be announced on the zoo’s website at ColumbusZoo.org in the near future!
Jack Hanna’s Animal Encounters Village — Opening this summer as part of the zoo’s newest region, Adventure Cove, Jack Hanna’s Animal Encounters Village will serve as the physical representation of Jack’s educational philosophy and his genuine enthusiasm for connecting people and wildlife. This brand-new area will create a highly-enriched and ever-changing environment for diverse species, including sloths, African penguins, bat-eared foxes, cheetahs, tortoises, toucans and more. By providing the opportunity to observe behavioral demonstrations with the animals, learn from Zoo educators and experience one-on-one animal encounters, the goal of Animal Encounters Village is to continue Jack’s work in inspiring guests so that they gain a deeper appreciation for the natural world and are empowered to help make a difference for wildlife and wild places.
Jack and Suzi Hanna Fund — The Columbus Zoo honored the Hannas in 2018 with the creation of an organization fund — the Jack and Suzi Hanna Fund — that supports wildlife conservation, transformative education and innovative habitats. These impact areas are close to the Hannas’ hearts and are aligned with the zoo’s mission to lead and inspire by connecting people and wildlife. More information about the Jack and Suzi Hanna Fund is available on the zoo’s website here.
Submitted by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.