SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A collection that has been displayed for 40 years at the Great Plains Zoo has now been closed to the public.

The Great Plains Zoo announced on Thursday that the Delbridge Museum of Natural History has closed.

Becky Dewitz, the president and chief executive officer at GPZ, said the decision to close the museum was not an easy one.

“This is something that I’ve been looking at for a while,” Dewitz said. Strong chemicals were used in the taxidermy process when these specimens were secured, she said. Those chemicals can be released into the environment. Dewitz said detectable levels were found in the museum.

“I don’t feel anyone was put at risk,” Dewitz said, but to protect visitors and to protect workers, the zoo and the city took a proactive approach to close the museum.

The museum has been home to one of the Midwest’s most comprehensive collections of taxidermy, procured and displayed over many decades in the mid-1900s by Sioux Falls businessman Henry Brockhouse. “These were procured…mainly in the late 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s until the time of his death in 1978,” Dewitz said.

The collection includes over 150 mounts from six continents that were hunted by Brockhouse and displayed at West Sioux Hardware until his death in 1978.

The collection was purchased on public auction from the Brockhouse estate by Sioux Falls attorney C.J. Delbridge in 1981. It was donated to the city of Sioux Falls for the benefit of the community and has been displayed at GPZ as the Delbridge Museum of Natural History since 1984.

“It’s sad,” Dewitz said. “I have such a high level of appreciation and respect for the Delbridge family.”

The museum provided 40 years of learning and education on species and habitats, she said.

“We just have such appreciation to the family for the educational value this provided to our community,” Dewitz said.

C.J. Delbridge. Photo courtesy: The Great Plains Zoo

The zoo also said it’s decommissioning the taxidermy collection to protect the specimens from more rapid degradation. The zoo said as the specimens continue to age, there is more potential for chemical exposure.

Before the final decision was made, “We had discussions with the Delbridge family,” Dewitz said. “This was truly the right thing to do and they were understanding.”

The specimen can’t just be removed and carried away, Dewitz said.

The decommissioning process will be lengthy because many of the species are critically endangered and protected under the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Act, Lacey Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The zoo and city will work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure there is proper decommissioning, Dewitz said.

The Sioux Falls City Council must approve the surplus and disposition of the
Delbridge collection.

She couldn’t comment on the future of the specimen but said it would be a significant investment for any entity to preserve them for the future.

The museum was in about 16,000 square feet at the zoo, Dewitz said.

The GPZ is developing a master plan which will include possible new uses for the museum space. That could include opportunities to be a site for traveling exhibits, she said.

The GPZ will also be the future site of the Butterfly House and Aquarium which is on the SD Game Fish and Parks’ Outdoor Campus at Sertoma Park. When the entities announced the merger in October 2022, they mentioned a new facility for the butterfly house and aquarium.

A permanent acknowledgment of the now-former Delbridge Museum of Natural History is also being discussed.

“This was a significant chapter in the history of Sioux Falls,” Dewitz said.

She’s been with the zoo for three years and she did have a favorite specimen in the museum.

“The walrus. It is an amazing specimen,” Dewitz said. “When you see the sheer size of it.”

The museum is closed but the GPZ does have a video for the public to watch.