Previous “one year” suspension lasted just seven months––& many other AZA zoos then did what Jack Hanna had done
COLUMBUS, Ohio––Forty-plus years of Jack Hanna shenanigans finally caught up to the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium on October 1, 2021.
The Association of Zoos & Aquariums [AZA] for the second time yanked the Columbus Zoo’s accreditation, seven months after the twenty-ninth anniversary of yanking it for the first time, also due to Jack Hanna shenanigans undertaken in brazen disregard of the AZA Code of Ethics.
“The AZA is looking inward at its own accreditation practices after a documentary accused Jack Hanna,” Columbus Zoo director and director emeritus since 1978, “of using animals from unaccredited breeders —not animals from the Columbus Zoo — to appear on late-night TV shows,” reported Kevin Landers of WBNS-10 in Columbus.
“How did we not see this?”
Said AZA chief executive Dan Ashe, “Puppy milling animals for the entertainment business is quite troubling. That’s damaging to Columbus’ reputation and to the AZA reputation quite frankly. We are asking ourselves how did we not see this during prior accreditation cycles?”
ANIMALS 24-7 wonders too, having reported about Jack Hanna’s dealings with unaccredited animal dealers, auctions, and hunting ranches throughout his Columbus Zoo tenure. One ANIMALS 24-7 exposé won a national award for investigative journalism.
ANIMALS 24-7 discussed Hanna’s dubious animal dealings on National Public Radio in 1990 with two former AZA presidents and Jack Hanna himself.
The 2021 loss of AZA accreditation came, reported Columbus Dispatch reporter Jennifer Smola Shaffer, “amid concerns regarding [both] its acquisition of animals and inappropriate business practices by the zoo’s former leaders.”
Where did $631,000 go?
The Columbus Zoo & Aquarium reportedly lost at least $631,000 because of misspending by former officials, Shaffer mentioned.
Former zoo president and CEO Tom Stalf and former chief financial officer Greg Bell, Shaffer wrote, “resigned after an investigation by The Dispatch detailed their extensive personal use of zoo resources.”
Those allegations, Shaffer said, are now under review by the Ohio Attorney General and Ohio Auditor of State.
Columbus Zoo officials on October 6, 2021 announced that they would appeal the AZA decision to suspend accreditation.
Supposedly the Columbus Zoo cannot apply for reinstatement until September 2022, and cannot receive it before 2023. But that is not how a purported year-long suspension played out in 1992, when Jack Hanna’s television popularity and the profitability of the Columbus Zoo easily trumped AZA solidarity.
Jack Hanna departed with Alzheimer’s disease
Said longtime Jack Hanna sidekick Jerry Borin, serving for the second time as interim Columbus Zoo president and CEO, “The AZA first accredited the Columbus Zoo in 1980, and as a long-standing AZA organization, we are disappointed that the [AZA accreditation] commission denied our accreditation after all of the positive changes that were made to meet AZA standards.”
The most positive of those changes may have been the permanent departure of Jack Hanna. That apparently occurred, however, only after Hanna suffered from advanced Alzheimer’s disease.
Wrote Shaffer, “The AZA expressed concern about ‘inappropriate financial management issues by former leadership’ at the Columbus Zoo, but said the zoo’s repeated animal transfers with non-AZA members to supply baby animals for entertainment purposes are ‘more substantial and concerning.’
“The Conservation Game”
“The recent documentary film The Conservation Game,” Shaffer summarized, “raised questions about the way celebrity conservationists, including Jack Hanna, acquire exotic animals. The film alleges baby tigers and snow leopards who appeared with Hanna on late-night talk shows often didn’t come from or return to accredited zoos, but were instead shuffled among backyard breeders and unaccredited zoos that don’t have to adhere to the same strict animal care standards and ethics rules as accredited facilities.
“The zoo announced in July that it has cut ties with animal vendors who do not meet certain standards of animal care,” Shaffer added.
The allegations raised in The Conservation Game have circulated for decades.
Jack Hanna vs. Steve Graham
During the decade of debate that preceded the adoption of the first AZA Code of Ethics in 1986, and during another five years of debate before the AZA Code of Ethics was reinforced in 1991 to prohibit several Jack Hanna practices, Hanna between 1976 and 1990 openly clashed repeatedly, with Steve Graham, director of the Detroit Zoo from 1981 to 1990, over the ethics of selling surplus zoo animals to private dealers.
Graham, previously director of the Antietam Humane Society in Pennsylvania, favored killing animals rather than taking the chance that they might end up at hunting ranches, roadside zoos, or badly kept private collections.
Graham was also outspokenly critical of keeping zoo animals in unnaturally crowded conditions to avoid killing them.
Reported the Columbus Dispatch on May 30, 1986, “Like a pair of gorillas, Columbus Zoo director Jack Hanna and Detroit Zoo director Steve Graham are pounding their chests at each other over the handling of zoo animals. Hanna has a motto that ‘You never go someplace to talk about animals without taking an animal along.’ Graham believes that is ‘prostituting animals.’”
“No kill” policy, but Hanna sold animals who were shot for trophies
Both Graham and Hanna allowed zoo animals to breed, to be able to display family groups.
Hanna won the debate over killing zoo animals, at least in the court of public opinion, by maintaining a no-kill policy, while Graham lost his Detroit Zoo job in 1990 and became a high school science teacher.
At least five times between 1986 and 1990, however, the Columbus Zoo sold animals to dealers who resold them to inappropriate destinations, as confirmed and exposed in January 1990 by CBS 60 Minutes.
Hanna then insisted to the Columbus Dispatch that the Columbus Zoo had a policy against selling surplus animals to dealers for auction, but admitted that he did not always know what became of the animals he sold, some of whom ended up as living targets for trophy hunters at hunting preserves. Others went to roadside zoos and other for-profit exhibitors.
The American Zoo Association took no action against Hanna and the Columbus Zoo then, but did reinforce the AZA Code of Ethics to require that accredited zoos be prohibited from selling animals to non-accredited entities.
The AZA did, however, suspend Hanna and the Columbus Zoo in April 1992 for violating other provisions of the Code of Ethics by importing two giant pandas from China for an exhibit that closed in September 1992, after attracting 925,000 of the zoo’s 1.5 million visitors.
The AZA contended at that time, along with most other wildlife advocates, that giant panda rentals are not in the best interest of either the giant panda species or the individual animals.
A week after the AZA imposed the suspensions, the Columbus Zoo executive committee named Hanna “director emeritus,” the title he held for the next 30 years while remaining the public face of the zoo.
Longtime general manager Jerry Borin was named to succeed Hanna, just as he was in 2021.
The April 1992 suspension was to be for one year, but was lifted on November 6, 1992, effective on January 1, 1993.
Giant panda rentals from China by AZA member zoos subsequently became common practice, including at the Bronx Zoo, the National Zoo, and the San Diego Zoo, whose directors reputedly led the 1992 drive to suspend Hanna.
“Essentially thumbed nose at the AZA”
The AZA suspension this time may not last even as long as the 1992 suspension did.
Word of the suspension, noted Columbus Dispatch reporter Shaffer, “comes one day after the zoo named Tom Schmid, president and CEO of the Texas State Aquarium, as its next leader.”
Earlier, Shaffer observed, “The announcement of Jack Hanna’s condition [Alzheimer’s disease] came one day after the CEO and CFO of the Columbus Zoo stepped down” amid the investigation into their alleged misuse of funds.
Said director Michael Webber, “For years it seems like Jack Hanna and the Columbus Zoo had essentially thumbed their nose at the AZA. It feels to me like they believed that the rules didn’t apply to them.”
“It’s really important that the AZA is doing something now,” agreed Harvard University Animal Law & Policy Program research fellow Carney Anne Nasser, featured in The Conservation Game. “But those bylaws and ethics standards have been there, in place for many years, and apparently, somebody was not paying close enough attention.”
Jackass keeper for a frat house
Born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1947, Hanna “started working at age 11, cleaning cages for a local veterinarian,” according to an April 2021 profile by Julanne Hohbach for Columbus Parent.
“He arrived in Ohio in 1965 to study at Muskingum College,” now Muskingum University, with dreams of being a zookeeper.”
Meanwhile Hanna joined a fraternity, bringing a pet donkey to the frat house as a mascot. He met his wife of 52 years when she joined him in feeding the donkey.
“After the Hannas graduated,” Hobach wrote, “they moved to Knoxville. He held a series of odd jobs, owned a pet store, did a two-year stint as zoo director at the Central Florida Zoo,” in Sanford, Florida, “ventured into animal filmmaking and sold real estate.”
When Hanna landed the Columbus Zoo top job, Hohbach said, “The zoo was part of Columbus’ Sewers & Drains Department.”
Hanna persuaded WBNS to air Hanna’s Ark, his first television show, from 1981 to 1983. That led to frequent appearances on Good Morning America, beginning in 1983, and then 102 appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman, beginning in 1985.
Recalled Hobach, “The syndicated Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures ran from 1993 to 2008. Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild began in 2007 and was also syndicated. Jack Hanna’s Wild Countdown had a near decade-long run from 2011-2020 on ABC.”
Television success boosted Hanna’s image as an animal lover, even as he endorsed dove hunting in October 1998, helping to defeat an initiative effort to reinstate an Ohio ban on shooting doves that had stood (with one brief interruption) for 75 years.
“Never thought anything like this could happen”
Hanna may have presided over selling more zoo animals into private hands than any other zoo director ever, though he certainly had rivals. But Hanna even managed to portray himself as a hero when on October 18, 2011 exotic animal collector Terry Thompson, of Zanesville, Ohio, released 56 lions, tigers, leopards, pumas, wolves, bears and monkeys before committing suicide.
“I never thought anything like this could ever happen here,” Hanna said. “We’d heard about the animal owner [Terry Thompson] before, but in Ohio, there are a lot like him because there were no laws to prevent it.”
Hanna had opposed the passage of the very bills which, if enacted into law, might have prevented it.
Two giraffes named Marius
Hanna also made public relations hay––and a lot of money––when on February 9, 2013 the Copenhagen Zoo, in Denmark, killed as surplus a healthy 18-month-old bull giraffe named Marius.
The killing brought to light the stated intent of the Jyllands Park Zoo, also in Denmark, to kill another “genetically redundant” giraffe, also named Marius.
Jack Hanna told media he had raised more than $100,000 with just three telephone calls to bring the Jyllands Park Zoo giraffe to The Wilds, a 9,000-acre Columbus Zoo & Aquarium subsidiary.
The Jyllands Park Zoo then spared that Marius, amid public hue-and-cry. That Marius appears to be still at the Jyllands Park Zoo.
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