History of the Palm Beach Zoo, told by longtime employee

Kristen Cytacki has been with zoo for nearly 3 decades
Posted at 6:50 AM, Nov 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-17 09:29:38-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — WPTV is now the official media partner of the Palm Beach Zoo.

Our news team is taking you behind the scenes at one of the most popular zoos in South Florida with our new "Wildlife Heroes" series. We want you to know about some of the conservation efforts to protect and save wildlife, which is the main mission at the zoo.

If you're looking for something to do with the family this weekend, "Zoo Lights" is back at the Palm Beach Zoo. This popular event give you a chance to see the zoo in a whole different light.

What you might not know is the Palm Beach Zoo has been around for more than 50 years. It takes a village to keep it up and running. The employees and volunteers are really passionate about the work they do.

WPTV had the chance to catch up with one woman who’s worked at the zoo for nearly 30 years. She gave us a history lesson about how the Palm Beach Zoo became one of the top zoos in South Florida.

"It's really magical for people to connect with animals," said Kristen Cytacki, who's been a key member of the zoo for nearly three decades, starting when she was just 28 years old.

Cytacki is now the director of conservation engagement and learning.

"I've been really fortunate to be part of many milestones in the zoo history," Cytacki said. "It's been so fun."

Let’s take you back to when the zoo first opened in the 1960s. It looked a lot different back then — just a small red barn. It even had another name.

"At that time, it was called the Dreher Park Zoo," Cytacki said.

The Palm Beach Zoo prepares for the opening of Zoo Lights on Nov. 17, 2023.PNG


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The first animals were ducks, chickens, rabbits and a goat. As the zoo grew in size, so did the collection of animals.

In 1986, the first Florida panther and cougar arrived.

"Panthers have been part of the zoo's history for a long time," Cytacki said.

A year later, the Bengal tiger arrived.

"The tiger exhibit is very popular. The jaguar is very popular. Also, our black bear exhibit is very popular," Cytacki said.

Fast forward a few decades and a couple of name changes later, the Palm Beach Zoo is home to more than 350 animals and is visited by 380,000 visitors each year.

Cytacki said the best is yet to come.

"We just continued to grow and expand. We have a lot of exciting projects in the near future," Cytacki said. "We all need nature. We all need vitamin Z. We all need some zoo."

Although the zoo has transformed over the years, the mission remains the same: saving animals in the wild. And that's where you come in. A portion of each admission ticket helps with conservation efforts, making you a wildlife hero.

Zoo Lights starts Friday and runs until Jan. 7. Tickets start at $15 for kids and $20 for adults. It's important to note that prices vary by date and time. Zoo members can get a $5 discount. For ticket information, click here.