Updated: Jan 23
Photo by Palm Beach Zoo. Sassy the panther prowling around her enclosure at Palm Beach Zoo.
The Hamm family has broken ground on the Candace S. & William Hamm III Education and Conservation Center in the Florida Wetlands section of the Palm Beach Zoo to inspire learning about Florida panthers.
The center is slated to open in the summer as the home of the zoo’s panthers.
“We both have always cared very much about all animals, rare and endangered, wherever they may be, but in our own state in particular,” said philanthropist Candace Hamm, a zoo board member.
The Florida panther is considered one of the world’s most endangered animals; an estimated 160 to 180 panthers remain in the wild. South Florida appears to have the only breeding population.
The elusive Florida panther is important as an indicator of the health of the local ecology.
Photo by Palm Beach Zoo From left: Theodora Ryan, Candace Hamm, Alexandra Ryan and Alexia Hamm Ryan grab shovels and break ground for the Candace S. & William H. Hamm III Education & Conservation Center at the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society.
Automobile accidents are the top cause of Florida panther deaths. Sassy, a Florida panther at the Palm Beach Zoo, survived in the wild for a month on the west coast of Florida after her mother was killed by a car. Sassy was the only one of her three siblings to survive. She was rescued by Florida Fish and Wildlife and was nursed back to health.
Because Sassy did not develop her hunting skills, she could not survive in the wild. She now resides at the Palm Beach Zoo where she can benefit from the Hamm Conservation Center. She acts as an ambassador for her species by giving people the opportunity to learn about conservation efforts for Florida panthers.
The expanded space will provide Sassy and other panthers more room to roam and provide a close, personal Florida panther experience for visitors.
Margo McKnight, the president and CEO of the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society, expressed gratitude to Hamm and her late husband, Bill. The Hamms have long supported the zoo, including daughter Alexia Hamm Ryan and son-in-law Baird Ryan.
Since 1957, the Palm Beach Zoo has grown into a prominent attraction. The zoo began with a small red barn but since then, Palm Beach Zoo has expanded to about 23 acres and over 500 animals.
The Palm Beach Zoo participates in the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan, which ensures healthy populations for endangered and rare animal species. The zoo acquired Florida panther Tayke in July 1986, at the time the only Florida panther on exhibit in South Florida.
The zoo's mission is to inspire people to act on behalf of wildlife and the natural world. In 2014 the zoo adopted the name Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society to fully encompass that mission.