Columbus Zoo acknowledges animal use issues raised in documentary


COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The Columbus Zoo is responding to claims made in a documentary over animal use on television in general and toward former Zoo director Jack Hanna in particular.

The documentary, The Conservation Game, looks at the use of exotic animals and argues for tighter restrictions on the breeding, ownership and use of big cat cubs in the United States. It features clips of Hanna, who was with the Columbus Zoo from 1978 to 2020 and made several television appearances over the years.

The film claims the Columbus Zoo paid vendors for cubs, which appeared during public engagement and on national talk shows. Then, according to the film, when the animals grew and matured, the zoo would give them back to the vendors.

Columbus Zoo Senior Vice President of Animal Care and Conservation Dr. Jan Ramler says the zoo no longer has relationships with those vendors, or any vendors.

“The film advocates for the passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act now being considered in Congress,” a Zoo statement read. “The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium shares and applauds this goal.”

The zoo said it has made organizational changes based on issues raised in the documentary, “including ending all relationships with animal organizations mentioned in the film, championing passage of the Big Cat Safety Act, and no longer allowing any cats or primates off grounds for programming.”

Although the documentary has not been widely released, it premiered recently at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. In a Facebook post, it was described as following “Tim Harrison, a retired Ohio police officer, who stumbles upon a bombshell discovery while undercover at an exotic animal auction. His world is turned upside down as he starts an investigation to track down the whereabouts of rare and endangered big cats.”

The Conservation Game was directed by Michael Webber, a Cincinnati native.

Shortly after the documentary’s debut, Hanna’s family announced that he was suffering from dementia and withdrawing from public life.

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