|[Note Guidelines] Photographer's Note|
|This Pronghorn is relieving an itch and by the look he had it felt awfully good. Shot in Yellowstone National Park near Gardiner Montana.|
By Gustave J. Yaki
The Pronghorn is often incorrectly referred to as an antelope. In fact, they now are the sole surviving species in a family of their own, midway between that of antelope and goat, as is indicated by its generic name. Fossils date back to nearly 30 million years ago.
Once numbering from 40 to 60 million prior to the arrival of Europeans, they were soon almost driven to the verge of extinction. Strong game laws and milder winters prevented them from going the way of the Passenger Pigeon and Bison. In winter, when the hills and open country becomes snow-covered, they band together and drift into the valleys. Unlike deer, they cannot jump over objects, so with the fencing of the western rangeland, many perished in snow storms, huddled together in corners. A narrow gap would have permitted them to pass through while preventing livestock from doing so. Today most fences are constructed high enough to allow them to crawl under, unless it is blocked by snow. Woven wire fences are absolutely fatal barriers to their movement.
They are the fastest mammal in North America, achieving speeds of up to 96 km (60 mi.) per hour for short distances, and can maintain 66 km (40 m.) per hour for up to 6.6 km (four mi.).
Besides their incredible speed, they also have remarkable eyesight, seeing movement up to 6.6 km (4 mi.) away. As well, their large eyes protrude so far from the sides of their head that they almost have 360 degree of vision.
Their maximum life-span is twelve years, but it averages out at about four and half years.
Mainly browsers, they also eat many weeds, some grasses and alfalfa but their preferred food is sagebrush, especially important in winter. They need water to drink.
Beginning in mid-August, the bucks start to assemble a harem. If they are lucky, this will average seven does, but this ranges from two to fifteen. Most of the kids play together, ignoring their elders at that time. After a gestation of 230-240 days, the female seeks privacy, giving birth, usually to twins, most often in a well vegetated valley or on an island in a lake. The young rise to nurse on wobbly legs during the first hour and can run on the second, although awkwardly. By the third day, they are difficult to catch. The female stows them, if twins, some distance apart, then retreats about 400 metres, keeping a watchful eye on the area where she has hidden them. The young appear to be odorless so predators find them difficult to locate for the first few days. After that, the female decoys any dog or coyote away from the caching area. The kids follow the does at four weeks, begin grazing at six weeks and are weaned at four months. Although independent, they follow their mother during the first winter. Being highly gregarious, they stay together in small herds most of the year, except in the spring, when adult males leave the does and younger stock, not rejoining them until autumn. The juveniles reach reproductive maturity at that time, at 15-16 months of age.
Both sexes have permanent horn cores which are covered by a layer of skin with specialized hairs. About the end of October, the old horn sheath becomes detached and is shed, revealing the newly developing horn sheath, which continues to grow until early July. That of the males at 25 cm is about twice as long as the females.
Their range is mainly the treeless, grassland areas of western half of North America, from the Canadian Prairie provinces south into northern Mexico. To most readily see them in Alberta, travel to the SW part of the province. In summer, they are frequently seen along the Trans-Canada highway between Brooks and Medicine Hat.
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