WORTHINGTON -- If you visit the Sioux Falls Zoo and, if you are like me, you will get wide-eyed when you get a chance to look over all of the different wild animals that are displayed in the lobby area. Many, if not most, of these large mammals will be from other continents.
There is little chance that I would ever get to see them alive in their wild habitats in Africa and other far-away destinations. The zoo allows you to see many of these same animals alive and in living color.
If you haven't been to the zoo in a while, you should fix that with an afternoon getaway this weekend. It is a great zoo and very close to home.
I felt like I was in the lobby of the zoo last weekend, when my wife and I attended the Safari Club International Banquet in Bloomington with Kirk Schnidker and his wife, Michele.
We walked into the entrance area and, as we did, I thought I was transported to Africa. The entire display was full of the most detailed taxidermy I had ever seen. I did not know the names of most of the animals, but everyone can identify a lion or a leopard.
I took Kirk up on his offer to attend so I could get a better idea of what the Safari Club International was and is. Everything I knew about this organization up until this point was just coffee shop talk.
SCI, to those on the outside, is just a bunch of very rich fat cats that spend thousands of dollars hunting exotic big game all over the planet. This includes hunting in places I can't find on a globe and hunting animals I did not know existed.
My initial impression was not all that far off. There really is a huge amount of money spent on just that. The auction at the banquet had 53 different donated safari hunts and they brought about $5,000 to $15,000 each. These were one-person hunts, so the outfitter made his or her money from the additional people that were bound to go along.
My first thoughts were pretty accurate.
What I learned, as the evening went on, opened my eyes to the fact the SCI is much more than wealthy hunters enjoying their "out of reach for the average guy" hunts.
SCI touts itself as the greatest defender of your right to hunt and the promotion of wildlife conservation on the planet.
I visited with some SCI volunteers and learned a lot more about what SCI does for the average rank-and-file hunter and conservationist in the United States.
Take for example, the mil-lions of acres of land owned by the federal government, most of which are located in the western states. Of these millions of acres, there are 35 million acres of federal land open to public hunting and, yet, these lands have no access for hunters.
These lands are, for all pur-poses, land-locked. The only folks that can hunt there are people who can get there by crossing other private land or those who own a helicopter.
These land-locked public acres are used only by adjoin-ing landowners or the outfit-ters who lease the adjoining land.
Wouldn't you think it was great if there were 35 million acres that only you could hunt because you control the access?
SCI is working hard to get these lands opened to all by working to get the necessary accesses in place. I don't intend to hunt these lands but, if you want to, you should be able to and SCI is helping make sure you can.
SCI is also on the front lines to defend your right to hunt. They are working continuously to keep the United Nations from implementing a worldwide ban on certain firearms.
Many consider the UN the greatest threat to gun owner-ship in the United States. Ef-forts to keep hunting where currently allowed and restore hunting where forces have closed it are important work of SCI. They also fend off the efforts of anti-hunting organizations in the United States and abroad.
Many organizations think they can destroy hunting as we know it by getting the EPA to regulate ammunition in ways that make it unavailable for hunters and shooters to use.
SCI has joined other pro-hunting entities to battle these efforts on behalf of every rank-and-file hunter, like you and me.
SCI was put on the hot seat a few years back for its position on shooting endangered or threatened species on managed game farms in the United States. After an extensive investigation, it was determined this could be credited for saving some endangered species.
With proper breeding and only harvesting a very small number of animals, these programs actually were credited with saving them by providing the necessary stock for successful reintroduction efforts in many countries.
Hunting also provided the monetary resources to finance the conservation efforts needed.
Hunting in Africa, and all over the world, provides the money needed to protect many wild creatures from extinction.
Take, for example, those countries that have names we don't recognize and many we do. Uncontrolled poaching and the destruction of an animal for only its horn is killing off and endangering many at-risk species.
Hunting by those who can afford it provides the money for these governments to patrol and catch poachers and other offenders and, as a result, protect all wildlife.
Without the money raised from hunters, these efforts would not be available and wildlife would suffer.
So, even if I never intend to hunt many of the species that you can see in the lobby of the Sioux Falls Zoo, I certainly have a greater respect for the SCI as I now know they do great good -- even for the average, rank-and-file outdoorsman who lives in Minnesota or Zimbabwe.
Scott Rall is The Daily Globe's outdoor columnist. His column can also be read weekly at www.dglobe.com.