He is the Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. He was Director of the zoo from 1978 to 1993, and is viewed as largely responsible for elevating its quality and reputation.
His media appearances have made him one of the best known and well liked animal experts in the United States. Jack Hanna, nicknamed "Jungle Jack", is instantly recognizable by his khaki safari outfit, deep tan and shaggy hair.
Hanna developed his love for animals growing up on his father's farm outside Knoxville, and volunteered for a veterinarian when he was 12. He majored in business and political science at Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, where he got in trouble for keeping ducks in his dorm room and a donkey in a shed behind his fraternity house. His senior year, Hanna married Suzi, a cheerleader at Muskingum, and graduated in 1969. Though unable to secure zoning as a zoo for his father's farm, the two opened a pet shop and petting zoo. In 1973, a three-year old boy was mauled by a lion at Hanna's farm and lost his arm. Hanna settled the subsequent lawsuit out of court, shut down the petting zoo, and moved his family to Florida. He then worked for a wildlife adventure company and directed the small Central Florida Zoo from 1973 to 1975. When he was offered the position at the Columbus Zoo in 1978, one of the reasons why he accepted was because he believed Children's Hospital in Columbus had the best treatment available for his daughter Julie's leukemia. She recovered by the age of six, though she needed a brain tumor removed later in life.
Some animal rights activists have claimed that Hanna has exploited animals for his own fame, criticising him in particular for wresting young animals away from their mothers to parade them on television. They also cite numerous incidents in which people have been injured during Hanna's demonstrations as evidence of his carelessness. Hanna was again sued in 1979, after a chimpanzee he brought to a church function in Marble Cliff, Ohio bit the finger off a five year-old girl. In 1995, former congressman Newt Gingrich was bitten on the chin by a baby cougar Hanna brought to the Capitol. On one television appearance, Good Morning, America host Charles Gibson was bitten by a fox Hanna had brought on the set and was allegedly never told that he could have contracted rabies from the animal. Hanna, for his part, states plainly that wildlife is dangerous and must be treated with respect. He has argued that in order for people to wish to protect animals and conserve their habitats, they must learn to love animals, and zoos and public demonstrations are the only way for that to happen.
Hanna has published an autobiography, Monkeys on the Interstate (1989), as well as many other books for children. He has been the host of the syndicated television show Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures since 1997. Hanna also occasionally contributes commentary as an animal expert on various local and national news programs, and has done guest spots on other shows such as Larry King Live and Hollywood Squares. He was also named one of the "50 most beautiful people" by People magazine.