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|Date opened||June 3, 1937|
|Location||Rapid City, South Dakota, United States|
Reptile Gardens is an animal park located south of Rapid City, South Dakota on the road to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Its mission is to "offer Guests an amazing experience while positively contributing to the future of our animal residents, as well as our community, by educating the public about important environmental issues and working closely with many major zoos worldwide to promote species survival". Housing a large variety of unique reptiles and exotic plants, Reptile Gardens has a strong tradition of community involvement and wildlife education for people of all ages. Reptile Gardens was cited in the 2014 Guinness Book of World Records for being the world's largest reptile zoo. It was recertified in the 2018 edition.
This family-oriented South Dakota attraction was founded by 21-year-old reptile enthusiast Earl Brockelsby, and began as a one-man-show that officially opened its doors on June 3, 1937.
Intrigued by the fear and interest people expressed when faced with a snake, Earl set up a small display of snakes, charging people to see them. After an initially successful dive into the tourism industry, Earl and the staff at Reptile Gardens saw some difficult times in the 1940s. Regaining momentum after World War II, the 1950s saw an increase in visitation to the Black Hills. Due to widening and relocation of the highway, a new location and major expansion, including the Sky Dome, were completed in 1965.
Although a fire in 1976 destroyed the Sky Dome, and a flood in 1977 caused water damage throughout the facility, the Reptile Gardens is still a family-owned and -operated business that houses more species of reptiles than any other zoo or park in the world.
Opened in 1965 as a new addition to Reptile Gardens, this indoor jungle was virtually unheard of in the US at the time. The Sky Dome was rebuilt after a fire in 1976 destroyed everything except for an old Ponderosa Pine skeleton. The same tree still stands as the centerpiece of the Safari Room on the main level. The new Sky Dome was opened in 1977 with new animals and exotic plants.
Not only does the Sky Dome feature beautiful plants, unique creatures and sculptures from Papua New Guinea and Bali, Indonesia, but this indoor jungle also houses a replica of the largest turtle fossil ever found, an Archelon turtle fossil, the largest turtle species yet discovered. The original fossil was found by paleontologists a short distance from Reptile Gardens in the 1970s. Despite efforts from owner Earl Brockelsby, the original fossil was sold to a museum in Vienna, Austria.
Every year, Reptile Gardens makes special donations to various environmental conservation organizations, including the Charles Darwin Center in the Galapagos Islands. The money donated to these wildlife organizations helps to protect the natural wildlife of these spectacular environments.
The stockholders of Reptile Gardens have created a task force to explore energy conservation applications and the exciting potential for introducing energy efficient technologies to their grounds. Members from this team attend community seminars in order to educate themselves about recycling, energy conservation, and the possibility of wind and solar power in the area. They hope to eventually install solar panels and wind turbines on their grounds.
During the summer, Reptile Gardens offers educational interactive animal shows, which are: bird program, alligator/crocodile show, and snake program. During performances, the animal keepers discuss safety techniques,facts and conservation efforts to aid in species survival.
Throughout the year, Reptile Gardens donates free passes all over the state of South Dakota for fundraisers, and provides donations to United Way, Love Inc., and Black Hills Workshop.
Along with donations given annually, Reptile Gardens also hosts various special events and fundraisers. With proceeds collected during multiple fund raisers and events, many local non-profit organizations are benefited including Children's Care, Black Hills Children's Home and Storybook Island.
The reptile experts at Reptile Gardens have been content consultants on many publications including:
Founder Earl Brockelsby received the Ben Black Elk Award for lifetime achievement in promoting South Dakota tourism in 1982. His son John Brockelsby, Public Relations Director, received the same award in 2015.