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The Great Great Plains Zoo and Museum

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One of the zoo's animal ambassadors

Article and Photos by Kathleen Walls


Nature lovers who visit Sioux Falls will fall in love with The Great Plains Zoo. In this 45 acre park, you can visit animals from the North American plains, glide over to Africa and see the animals of the savanna in very natural surroundings, then slip over to Asia and admire the big cats before you hop down under for the Australian wildlife. Plus there are special exhibits for the flamingos, the Birds, Bugs and Amphibians, the penguins and everybody's favorites the primates. Young visitors will be enthralled by the barnyard creatures at Hy-Vee Face-to-Face Farm. All told, over 1,000 animals from around the world.

A fun way to get a good overview of the African Savanna is via the Savannah Express, a narrated train ride that will give you a lot of behind eh scenes information about the animals. What would a zoo be without a carrousel? You won't be disappointed in the Sanford carrousel here. Hy-Vee Face-to-Face Farm  also offers a mining sluice and camel rides.

Great Plains Zoo takes part in the very important breeding programs needed to bring back endangered species from the edge of extinction. Some of their success stories include the very rare Amur Tiger and Eastern Black Rhinoceros,

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One of the zoo's tigers

In the 1940s, the Amur Tiger was on the brink of extinction, with fewer than 40 individuals surviving in the wild. Now you can see the actual results of the conservation breeding program in action. When you visit  Amur Tiger “Vika” and watch her tending to her trio of playful cubs, who recently celebrated their second birthday, you get the full meaning of the conservation breeding program. The cubs – two girls and a boy – were born to Vika and her mate, “Danya,” in March 2010. This was the second litter for the pair. Their first cub, “Callie”, was born in July 2009.

This summer, the Zoo’s eight-year-old Red Panda “Ruth” gave birth to a litter of two cubs. More recently, in September 2012, the Reticulated Giraffe "Libbie" gave birth to "Gerald."  Another success story relates to "Imara" and "Jubba" a pair of Black Rhinos at the new “Rare Rhinos of Africa” exhibit. "Imara" has given birth to two calves. The oldest, "Kapuki,"  born in 2005,  now lives at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, IL, and the second calf, “Kiano” relocated to the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, IA. Hopefully both will start their own families soon.  This is the breeding program in action.  When you visit the zoo ask about other success stories.

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Exhibit in the Delbridge Museum of Natural History

They are not just a fun place to visit. They are an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and working hard to preserve wildlife species and at the same time educate and entertain. Another feature not found in many other zoos, it the attached natural history museum.

The Delbridge Museum of Natural History is a classic example of good coming out of the most evil of situations. Had I been around Sioux Falls while Henry Brockhouse was hunting and killing animals, I would not have patronized his hardware store where he displayed the results of his hunts. I would not have wanted to contribute one penny to his hunting budget. I abhor killing of anything not trying to kill you. ( I make an exception for people who kill young children or animals. I see no reason not to kill them  before they do more damage.) But that is not the end of this story.

After Mr. Brockhouse passed on to his final judgment in 1978, a wonderful humanitarian gesture by another Sioux Falls family led to the creation of the Delbridge Museum.  The C.J. Delbridge family purchased the entire collection and donated it to the City of Sioux Falls on the condition that a proper home be built to house it. The result, Delbridge Museum of Natural History was built as part of existing the Great Plains Zoo. It's a wonderful match. The 150 mounted animals displayed are so realistic, you expect them to move around the exhibit area. They are a perfect counterpoint to the live ones housed in the zoo.

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Rare African Elephant at the Delbridge Tiger hunting a young gazelle exhibit at the Delbridge

The mounts are from six continents and are grouped by habitat. Thirty-six of them are members of "vanishing species,"   those animals so rare they could never be replaced if anything happened to the mounts. Among the most valuable exhibits are the Giant Panda, Black Rhino and African Elephant.

Combined the Zoo and Musuem are a "do not miss" attraction for anyone who loves nature and wildlife.

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