Wildlife Trekker
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Wildlife Trekker

The North American Pronghorn

The North American pronghorn was mistakenly named an antelope by Merriweather Lewis during the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1803. Lewis mistakenly assumed the swift creatures were related to the antelopes who roamed the grasslands of Africa. They are not. Pronghorn has emerged as a more correct name for the species.

The pronghorn is the fastet land animal in North America. They can achieve speeds of 55 miles an hour. A pronghorn can run a mile in less than a minute. They can run 42 miles an hour for four miles. Nothing else in North America even comes close. Scientists have long debated the need for this incredible speed. The fossil record reveals as many as eleven different species of antelope alive during the biological history of North America. This includes one extinct species of antelope which had a horn on each corner of its skull and one more horn on the nose which split into a Y. For much of this time, the pronghorn shared terrain with an Ice Age Pleistocene cheetah. There are unsubstantiated rumors that some of these Ice Age cheetahs, known as onzas still roam the wild in the most remote and rugged parts of northern Mexico. The African cheetah is the only land animal alive on the planet which is faster than the pronghorn.

Going through old photographs for this story I realized how many of my pictures displayed a small herd of pronghorn at a distance as they run away. Pronghorn are as skittish as they are fast. It is difficult to get an antelope to stand still long enough to take a good photograph using just a camera.

There is a reason why pronghorn are constantly nervous. They are delicious. I can attest the lean steaks taste wonderful. Some of the Native American tribes in certain places on the prairie used pronghorn as their primary food source. Antelope were numerous. Overhunting and fragmentation of habitat took pronghorn to the edge of extinction. The population for the entire continent dropped to 13,000 in the 1920s. Overhunting is no longer an issue. It was hunting organizations such as Boone and Crockett cooperating with conservation groups such as the Audobon Society which helped to revive pronghorn populations. Boone and Crockett member Charles Alexander Shelton wrote to chairman George Bird Grinell, “Personally I think the antelope are doomed yet every effort should be made to save them.”

Luckily, Shelton was wrong. A large wildlife preserve in Nevada, set aside specifically for pronghorn, is named after Charles Alexander Shelton. Pronghorn populations have rebounded to 1,000,000. In the state of Wyoming, until recently, the pronghorn outnumbered the people. Sounds like Wyoming is a mighty pretty place to be.

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Gary Every

Gary Every

Gary Every is the author severl books including “The Saint and the Robot” “Inca Butterflies” and has been nominated for the Rhysling Award 7 times