All About Pronghorns

Pronghorns — maybe you’ve heard them referred to as pronghorn antelope — are incredibly fast runners, have extraordinary eyesight, and are heritage wildlife of the North American Great Plains.


| March/April 2017



Antelope

The pronghorn antelope isn't actually an antelope like it's African counterparts.

Photo by iStockphoto.com/SandSandS

I heard them before I saw them, thundering hooves kicking up shards of grass as a herd of 32 pronghorn antelope ran across a sweeping meadow in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. A marauding coyote was loping toward the flustered pronghorn, their white rumps standing out against their powerful, tan-colored hindquarters.

The fastest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere, and the second fastest land mammal in the world only behind the cheetah of the African Savannah, the pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana) isn’t actually an antelope after all. Its closest living relatives are also in Africa, the unique-looking okapi and the giraffe. Its distant relatives happen to be cattle and goats.

Sight and flight

The next time you look through a pair of binoculars and scan the horizon, that’s the equivalent of the pronghorn’s vision. Their eyesight is legendary. They can pick up movement three miles away, and with their huge eyes set far back on their heads, they can keep watch while their heads are down during feeding.

Running is actually their final line of defense. No other land mammal on the planet can keep pace with the pronghorn. Even the fastest animal in the world, the cheetah, flames out after a few hundred yards. Pronghorn can run 35 mph for four miles, 42 mph for one mile, and 55 mph for a half mile.

How are pronghorns able to sustain such speeds for those distances? They’re built for speed. They possess a large windpipe that enables them to take in a large amount of air. They also have large hearts and lungs, hollow hairs, and an extremely light bone structure. Their hooves have two long, cushioned, pointed toes which help them absorb shock while they are on the run, fleet of hoof.

The teary-eyed, cud-chewing pronghorns are still running from their distant past more than 10,000 years ago and are the living heritage of the Great Plains. Ghost predators like the giant short-faced bear, American (“false”) cheetahs, and long-legged hyena preyed upon pronghorns during the Pleistocene Era, but today they easily outrun predators like coyotes. However, pronghorns have been forced to deal with other obstacles such as fencing, and especially barbed wire.





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