Pronghorn Quick Rebound Credited to Conservation Efforts
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BUILT FOR SPEED: PRONGHORN QUICK REBOUND CREDITED TO CONSERVATION EFFORTS
Through the waves of heat rising off the sage-covered hill, a herd of pronghorn (Antilocapra Americana) mill about in reasonable security. Between the mature herd buck, nine does, 16 fawns and three satellite bucks, there are 29 sets of eyes constantly scanning the horizon for approaching danger. If it weren’t for the white rumps and bellies of this herd of pronghorn, they would almost completely blend in with the rough grasses that make up this high-range desert. As it is, one of the does spots a pack of marauding coyotes two hillsides away; her call of alarm to the rest of the herd sends the other members running.
When threatened, the pronghorn (commonly referred to as an antelope, though not really a member of the antelope family) uses its speed as its first defense. Known to reach speeds of up to 60 mph for short distances, the pronghorn is the second-fastest land mammal on earth, behind the cheetah. In addition to oversized lungs and heart that allow it to reach blistering running speeds, the pronghorn is also equipped with a 320-degree field of vision and eye sight equivalent to 8x binoculars.
But not even the keenest senses and breakaway speed could protect the pronghorn from market hunting that marred much of the country in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Once believed to have outnumbered the great herds of bison in North America, there were but 20,000 pronghorn left by 1908. Since then, restrictions on hunting and protection of habitat have seen the pronghorn’s populations rise to near 1 million. Today, there are estimated to be more pronghorns than humans in the state of Wyoming. Through careful conservation – paid for by sportsmen and women – 17 western states now allow for pronghorn hunting.
Today, wildlife watchers and hunters alike can find pronghorn from west Texas through the Great Plains and from the Oklahoma panhandle to places in Washington and Oregon. More than just a prime example of what careful conservation practices can do to benefit wildlife and humans, the pronghorn is the last truly wild link between the American West and life today. Although bison dominated the plains and much of the west with their enormous herds, the bison – and its woodland-dwelling subspecies – were not specific to the same stark, wind-swept vistas as the pronghorn. This speedy resident is the quintessential inhabitant of the brushland, grassland and desert environments that early settlers discovered as the nation spread westward from the Mississippi River. Found only in North America, the pronghorn is a species all our own – there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world.
Every year on September 27, millions of Americans will celebrate the success of the pronghorn and many other species as part of National Hunting and Fishing Day activities that will be going on nationwide. National Hunting and Fishing Day began after a presidential proclamation in 1972 that sets aside the fourth Saturday of each September for the event. Since then, national, regional, state and local organizations have staged thousands of open house hunting- and fishing-related events everywhere from shooting ranges to suburban frog ponds, providing millions of Americans with a chance to experience, understand and appreciate traditional outdoor sports.
The careful pronghorn conservation efforts of the past have given millions of people the thrill of seeing a big pronghorn buck race along a ridge, to watch large herds graze on sage brush and cacti or just soak up the sun in 17 states. Conservation groups, sportsmen and women and wildlife watchers alike are all stakeholders in the future of the pronghorn, to ensure that this icon of the American West can keep running well into the future.