I have loved animals since I was a young boy growing up in Tennessee. I could never have imagined where my life would take me – and it’s only getting wilder! My hope is that together we can appreciate, value, and protect wildlife for generations to come.
I got my first job when I was eleven working for our family veterinarian, Dr. Roberts, in Knoxville, Tennessee. I loved cleaning cages and being around all the animals. I worked with Dr. Roberts for several summers and developed a love and respect for animals.
After spending a few years at Kiski, a boarding school in Pennsylvania, I attended Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio where I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. I met my wife, Suzi Egli, while we were at Muskingum College and we were married in 1968.
The Adventure Begins
Soon after Suzi and I were married, we opened a pet shop, Pet Kingdom, in Knoxville. When I received an offer to direct a small zoo in Sanford, Florida in 1973, I jumped at the opportunity. Suzi and I lived in Florida while I worked at the Central Florida Zoo from 1973 until 1975. In 1975, I had to take a break from the animal world because of an illness in my family. I missed working with animals so in 1978 I answered an ad for a zoo director in Columbus, Ohio.
In 1978, I was named director of the Columbus Zoo. When I first started at the Columbus Zoo, attendance was low and the animal habitats were outdated. My top priority was to increase attendance by offering educational and entertaining events. As a result of these programs, more and more people started visiting the zoo.
In 1983, I was invited to appear on Good Morning America in New York following the birth of baby twin gorillas at the Columbus Zoo. I eagerly accepted the invitation knowing that this was a great opportunity to educate people across the nation about animals. I have been a regular guest and wildlife correspondent ever since.
Two years later, in 1985, I appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman for the first time. Dave and I “hit it off” and now I am a guest on The Late Show several times each year. Other shows that I have appeared on with my animal friends include Larry King Live, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Hollywood Squares, The Maury Show, Entertainment Tonight, FOX News and CNN programs, and various other news programs (as a wildlife correspondent). The animals that I bring on television are ambassadors to their cousins in the wilds, and are cared for by professionals.
Rwanda: Home Away from Home
In 1991, a gorilla zookeeper at the Columbus Zoo discussed starting a grass-roots project that would benefit the mountain gorillas of Rwanda. I was immediately on-board, and Partners in Conservation (PIC) was born – their work in Rwanda quickly became the Zoo’s signature conservation project. Thanks to PIC, we’ve learned more over the past two decades than we could imagine about the mountain gorillas and what it takes to really make a sustainable difference for them in the wild, but also for the people that live around them.
Suzi and I have a home in Rwanda that we visit every year. We love interacting with the local people and visiting the orphanage and school the Columbus Zoo helps support. And of course, a trip to Rwanda wouldn’t be complete without hiking with the mountain gorillas in the Virunga Mountains!
Going Into the Wild
In 1993 I began hosting Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures, a nationally syndicated television series. After more than decade with Animal Adventures, I created a new TV series, Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild, in 2007. Be sure to tune in as my family and I explore the corners of the globe and discover amazing animals and cultures. I am thrilled that Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild was awarded a Daytime Emmy Award in 2008, 2012 and 2013! My newest TV show, Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown, airs on Saturday mornings around the country on ABC! You’ll see some of my favorite experiences with the world’s rarest, most endearing animals broadcasted from my very own base camp at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
The Columbus Zoo: 35 Years and Counting
My media appearances were taking up so much time that I could no longer manage the day-to-day matters at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. In 1992, I became the Director Emeritus at the Zoo, a job I still enjoy today. Although I am traveling most days of the year, I still call Central Ohio home.
I have been very fortunate to meet many leaders in the community who helped me raise money to transform the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium into the state-of-the-art park that it is today. The Columbus Zoo continues to grow with the additions of Zoombezi Bay (waterpark), the Wilds, and the Safari Golf Club. In 2014 one of my dreams came true when Betty White graciously joined me for the opening of Heart of Africa – a vast 43 acre African savanna where guests can feed giraffe, ride camels, witness the speed of a cheetah firsthand, and watch wildebeest, antelopes, ostrich and others mingle in the distance.
Suzi and I have three daughters. My eldest daughter Kathaleen is married to an Englishman and lives in the United Kingdom. They have two children, Gabriella and Jack. I was so excited to have a child named after me because, until now, my only namesake was a donkey!
My middle daughter Suzanne and her husband Billy live in Cincinnati, Ohio with their four children: Brittany, Blake, Alison, and Caroline. We love spending time with them and watching their sporting events when we’re in town. They also come visit me at the Columbus Zoo where my youngest daughter Julie works.
Julie is a member of the animal programs department as an animal educator. She has a special touch with baby animals and often raises young orphans at home. And our family wouldn’t be complete without our yellow Labrador, Tasha.
I have loved animals since I was a young boy growing up in Tennessee. I could never have imagined where my life would take me – and it’s only getting wilder! My hope is that together we can appreciate, value, and protect wildlife for generations to come .