POWELL – How do you begin to celebrate and say thank you for a life-changing 42-year career? Jungle Jack Hanna has used his down-to-earth humor, keen interest in education, and genuine enthusiasm and passion for wildlife to inspire millions to care about — and be amazed by — the wonders of wildlife.
While his retirement from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium officially begins on Jan. 1, 2021, the contributions he has made to the organization after serving as both director and director emeritus for 42 years will have long-lasting, positive impacts. His vision and leadership helped transform the zoo into one of the world’s most beloved, innovative and influential zoos.
“Jack Hanna has made an incredible difference for wildlife across the globe and is a true inspiration to our central Ohio community and most certainly our staff. Throughout the 25 years that I’ve worked with Jack, I’ve appreciated his authenticity and his endless energy and devotion to making the world a better place. While Jack is retiring from his official role, his legacy will be ever present in our work as we continue to fulfill our organization’s mission to lead and inspire by connecting people and wildlife. We are extremely grateful for the impact Jack and Suzi Hanna have made over the last 42 years, and we are proud to continue building on our organization’s strong foundation to achieve many more successes in the future as we work to protect the future of wildlife and wild places,” said Columbus Zoo and Aquarium President/CEO Tom Stalf.
The original retirement celebration plans included community events, but since Jack attracts large crowds, they were adjusted to be virtual to help keep everyone safe and healthy. In July 2020, the zoo opened its newest region, Adventure Cove, which also includes Jack Hanna’s Animal Encounters Village. 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.
The xoo and its affiliated properties are also honoring his leadership in other creative, impactful ways to continue honoring Jack’s legacy of connecting people and wildlife:
• Top 10 Moments: While it is impossible to truly pick 10 favorite moments from an active and momentous 42 years, the zoo team pulled some fun highlights! Take a trip down memory lane to revisit Jungle Jack’s Top 10 Moments. The public is also encouraged to share their favorite memories on the zoo’s Facebook page.
• Jack Hanna Way: As a fitting tribute, on Dec. 8 the curved, zoo-owned roadway that runs along the large Columbus Zoo and Zoombezi Bay sign on Powell Road, was dedicated as “Jack Hanna Way.” Not only does this symbolize Jack’s own way of working on behalf of people and wildlife, but this is the first road that guests encounter as they enter the zoo’s property—leading them toward a wonderful world of wildlife and adventure.
• Jack and Suzi Hanna Fund Grants: In 2018, the Columbus Zoo honored the Hannas 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. As they head into retirement, the Hannas have enthusiastically approved two grants from the Jack and Suzi Hanna Fund to support the zoo’s comprehensive “Connecting People & Wildlife” campaign,” specifically focusing on Jack Hanna’s Animal Encounters Village Park (the outdoor habitat areas), as well as providing support for the Zoo’s new education building and programs, set to open in early 2021. More information will be coming soon.
• The Wilds: Jack’s Base Camp Yurt served as one of the filming locations for his highly acclaimed television shows, “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild” and “Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown,” and now Jack’s yurt — once located in the zoo’s Asia Quest region — has moved and is getting a makeover! The Wilds, a 10,000-acre conservation located in Cumberland, Ohio, and managed by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, was also transformed thanks in large part to Jack’s vision. He certainly has a soft spot for the area, where he and Suzi share a lot of history. Jack first arrived in Ohio in 1965 to attend college (where he also met Suzi) at Muskingum University, which is located just miles from The Wilds. In 2007, his premier of “Into the Wild” also featured The Wilds.
The area’s rolling pastures, the facility’s commitment to research and housing rare and endangered species, and the opportunity for adult guests to stay overnight in yurts at Nomad Ridge, makes The Wilds a perfect new home for Jack’s yurt. There, it will serve as an extension of The Wilds’ Nomad Ridge concierge and bar services while also representing Jack’s love of the outdoors and bringing people together.
• Zoombezi Bay: The Columbus Zoo is also unique in that it is located adjacent to its own water park, Zoombezi Bay, the proceeds from which also support the zoo’s operation and mission. As another way to honor Jack and to ensure that his fun spirit continues to surround everyone, plans are in the works to rename and re-theme some highlights within the park. More information will be shared ahead of the 2021 season, which is set to begin in May!
Though retirement is a new adventure for Jack Hanna and his family, he maintains that the Columbus Zoo and central Ohio will always be their home.
“We are so grateful that Central Ohio welcomed us with open arms all those years ago,” he said. “Being able to help transform the Columbus Zoo has been the opportunity of a lifetime. I am so lucky to have been able to follow my dream of working with animals and hope that we have inspired many others to do the same along the way.”
Submitted by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.