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Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society Announces Groundbreaking of the Candace S. & William H. Hamm III Education & Conservation Center to Inspire Visitors with the Florida Panther Story

WEST PALM BEACH, FL - January 11, 2022 - In an intimate family ceremony at Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society the day after Thanksgiving, three generations of the Hamm family took up the golden shovels and broke ground on the Candace S. & William H. Hamm III Education & Conservation Center.

Candace Hamm, her daughter, Alexia Hamm Ryan; and granddaughters Theodora and Alexandra Ryan, marked the festive occasion with custom Zoo hardhats and shovels. The Candace S. & William H. Hamm III Education & Conservation Center will be located within the Florida Wetlands section of the Zoo. Inside the Center, zoologists will facilitate unprecedented nose-to-whisker interactions between Florida wildlife and visitors. The Zoo’s resident panthers will enjoy an enriched (fun!) habitat to explore, climb with a bird's eye view of the neighboring Caribbean flamingos. The Center will immerse visitors in Palm Beach Zoo’s panther conservation efforts, inspiring all generations to help save Florida wildlife through up-close animal sessions and innovative visual storytelling.

“We both have always cared very much about all animals, rare and endangered, wherever they may be, but in our own state in particular. It is an honor to see the building begin to take shape. My husband, William, would feel the same,” said Hamm.

Hamm, a Zoo board member, and wildlife philanthropist, has demonstrated long-standing commitment to the Zoo and its animals. Her example has inspired a new generation of philanthropists, including the ones in her own family. The Hamm’s daughter, Alexia Hamm Ryan, and her husband Baird Ryan, are also avid Zoo supporters.

“We are grateful for the profound generosity of Candy and her late husband Bill. The spectacular expanded space will provide our panthers, including Sassy, the orphaned Florida panther, with even more room to roam and a one-of-a-kind experience for the 400,000 guests who attend the Zoo every year,” said Margo McKnight, president and CEO of Palm Beach Zoo.

 In 2018, Candace and Bill were honored at Tropical Safari Gala with the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award for their steadfast support of wildlife. The Center will open in summer of 2022, in time to welcome travelers and schoolchildren from throughout South Florida.

Conservation Efforts: Why Protecting Panthers Matters

The Florida panther is an indicator of the overall health of the habitat that supports wildlife and the ecological process upon which humans and nature depend. The future of Florida panthers relies on providing these endangered cats room to move about Florida and to safely raise their young. Connecting protected national, state and county parks, as well as private ranches and agricultural landscapes is key to protecting the Florida panther.

Collisions with automobiles is the number one cause of death for Florida panthers. Palm Beach Zoo, in partnership with National Geographic Explorer and photographer Carlton Ward Jr.'s Path of the Panther project, collects data and inspires action to provide corridors for panthers and other wildlife to safely traverse Florida. Special high-resolution cameras are deployed across panther habitats to collect critical information for the management and protection of panthers. Palm Beach Zoo’s trained zoologists are part of the team that maintains this monitoring system throughout southern Florida.

Photo by Carlton Ward Jr.

Sassy’s Story 

On the west coast of Florida near Collier-Seminole State Park, a Florida panther cub survived unthinkable odds when her mother was hit and killed by a passing car. Alone and defenseless, the panther kitten endured a month on her own in the wild. Thankfully, she was rescued by FWC and nursed back to health. Without fully-developed hunting skills, she would not be able to survive in the wild, so she was placed in her forever home at our Zoo. Despite her tragic beginning, this healthy cat earned her name, “Sassy,” as she now patrols the John and Carole Moran Panther Prowl at Palm Beach Zoo, happily interacting with zoologists and guests. Sassy will benefit from the enriched panther habitat, and through the Candace S. & William H. Hamm III Education & Conservation Center, visitors will connect with the plight of her brethren in the wild.



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