Jack Hanna's retirement celebration at Columbus Zoo to be virtual only
Add Jack Hanna’s retirement bash to the list of events nixed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s khaki-loving, safari-hat-wearing director emeritus is known for drawing large crowds wherever he goes, zoo staff has decided to celebrate his 42-year career virtually.
That includes not hosting Hanna's usual "Home for the Holidays" event, originally scheduled for Saturday.
A look back from Columbus Parent:Jack Hanna’s Wild Journey
Hanna, 73, will officially retire on Jan. 1, 2021.
"We are so grateful that central Ohio welcomed us with open arms all those years ago," Hanna, who is from Tennessee, said in a statement. "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."
When the world-famous wildlife enthusiast announced his retirement plans this summer, zoo staff had initially planned to host community events to honor him. But with COVID-19 spreading at record-high rates, the plans had to be canceled, according to a Wednesday announcement.
Now the focus has shifted to ways to honor him without a mass gathering.
On Tuesday, for example, the curved, zoo-owned roadway that runs along the Columbus Zoo and Zoombezi Bay sign on Powell Road was dedicated as "Jack Hanna Way."
The zoo is also encouraging guests to share their favorite memories of Hanna on the zoo's Facebook page as it shares its own on social media.
That includes a video showcasing "Jungle Jack's Top 10 Moments," posted Wednesday on YouTube.
Some honors will also extend into the New Year.
The zoo plans to rename and retheme some areas of Zoombezi Bay, its waterpark, according to Wednesday's announcement.
Jack's Base Camp Yurt, a filming location for his acclaimed TV shows, Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild and Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown, will receive a makeover and be moved to The Wilds, the 10,000-acre conservation park the zoo manages near Cumberland, about 75 miles southeast of Columbus.
Guests who stay overnight at its Nomad Ridge yurts can enjoy the site, which will serve as an extension of its concierge and bar services.
The zoo is also set to open a new education building featuring new programs in 2021, supported by a grant from the Jack and Suzi Hanna fund, created in 2018 to honor Hanna and his wife's legacy.
"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," Columbus Zoo President and CEO Tom Stalf said in a statement. "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."
The zoo has also already honored Hanna in many ways over the years.
In July, the zoo opened its newest region, Adventure Cove, which includes Jack Hanna’s Animal Encounters Village. It is also supported by a grant from the Jack and Suzi Hanna fund.
When they aren't traveling with the zoo's educational programs, dozens of trained "ambassador animals" rotate through the area’s village-themed indoor and outdoor exhibits. They include cheetahs, penguins, sloths, bat-eared foxes, toucans, capybaras and lemurs.
Hanna is known for bringing ambassador animals with him for his public appearances, including on TV.
The new Animals Encounters Village area was specifically designed so guests can enjoy up-close interactions with animals, but the pandemic has put many of those opportunities and activities on hold.
In 2019, the zoo unveiled life-sized bronze statues of Hanna and his wife near the entrance of the zoo's Heart of Africa region. The couple, along with some animal companions, are seated on an 8-foot-long bronze bench and guests can pose with the statues for photos.