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West Palm Beach Point of Interest: Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society

Non-profit Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society at Dreher Park, West Palm Beach, Florida. More than 550 animals (from 190 different species) live in a beautiful tropical setting spanning 23 acres at the zoo. The Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society is associated with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society’s purpose is to “inspire people to act on behalf of animals and the natural environment.

Bacon Park was purchased by the city of West Palm Beach from the state of Florida for $100 in 1951. Bacon Park was once home to a landfill and a tent city campsite, both of which were completely wiped out by the devastating storm of 1928. In 1957, in honor of Parks Superintendent Paul Dreher, Bacon Park was rechristened Dreher Park. The red barn at Dreher Park was part of Dreher’s makeover. Dreher put his own money into the petting zoo’s purchase of a goat, two ducks, a goose, and two chickens. The zoo was renamed Dreher Park Zoo.

The zoo welcomed Joey the kangaroo, a local celebrity, on February 29, 1964. Joey, a beloved pet, had a reputation for breaking free of his cage and exploring the streets of New York City. A photograph of Joey appeared in two issues of Life Magazine, one in October 1961 and the other in April 1964, and the Boy Scouts of America named him an honorary member. Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President Kennedy, was a frequent guest at Joey’s house. Joey ended up in Dreher Park Zoo because a prohibition prevented him from remaining as a home pet.

A baby Asian elephant was brought to South Florida by a petting zoo called “Jett’s Petting Zoo” in the early 1960s. South Florida residents pushed for the zoo to buy the juvenile elephant, now known as Toppie. The elephant was named after the West Palm Beach Firemen’s Benevolent Association, which raised funds to buy it with the aid of 1,000 volumes of Top Value Trading Stamps. Four-year-old Toppie the 2,000-pound elephant came on April 16th, 1965, and lived at the zoo until 1975 when she was transferred to Lion Country Safari.

Melvin J. and Claire Levine Animal Care Complex was inaugurated on April 22nd, 2009 by their children. The five-million-dollar animal hospital occupies 10,000 square feet and is the first LEED-certified zoo animal hospital in the United States. The Palm Beach Zoo was renamed the Palm Beach Zoo and Conservation Society in 2014. On 23 acres, the zoo presently contains over 550 animals, and it receives over 300,000 visitors each year.

Margo McKnight, the zoo’s new director and CEO, has plans to strengthen security at the zoo for the benefit of animal and employee safety following some high-profile and tragic occurrences in prior years. 

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Next Point of Interest: Henry Morrison Flagler Museum