Monday, September 7, 2009

Pronghorn Antelope

I've had a fascination with pronghorn antelope for years. However, I've only seen a few of them in the wild. Those have all been while driving along the sagebrush lined freeway in Wyoming, between Evanston and Laramie, or driving into Billings, Montana. None of those occasions were convenient or safe to stop for a photo.

While the kids were young, we visited Pinedale, Wyoming and I purchased a set of pronghorn horns. They graphically show that the horn is a keratinous sheath of hairlike substance which covers a bony core. The horn is shed and then regrows each year.

Several years ago I purchased a mounted pronghorn head from a client who was moving out of her home into an assisted living facility. She had obtained it from an antique shop. It is now hanging in my office.

It is a wonderfully large speciman with huge horns. From a tag, it appears that it was shot in the 1940s in northern California.

Most horns, including the pair I purchased in Pinedale, have a small protruding side horn. The sidehorns on this one are quite large and the top horn also curls over.

I have eaten antelope several times, roast and steak, from antelope that Gregg Palmer shot, I believe in Wyoming. It meat tends to be very lean and gamey.

This past weekend we flew to Billings, Montana for the wedding of a niece, Ashley Jones. Near the Jones' home is an elementary school and a park and a herd of antelope seems to be a permanent fixture in the park, feasting on the nice grass with access to a nice pond, in broad daylight, seemingly unconcerned by all of the cars and people nearby. We were in Dave Kenison's car and stopped near the park to see if we could get some pictures of these normally wary creatures.

I've learned that even females have horns, but that the horns are often barely visible, are straight and rarely pronged. Females also lack a patch of black hair which males have at the corner of the jawbone. Two females below. You can see the small horns on the closest female.
In the herd of 20 or 30 antelope in the park, there was one male. He was off by himself. I focused on moving slowly toward the male to get as close as I could for pictures.

Stan Jones said that the males are very territorial. Several years ago the male in the park saw his own reflection in a window in the school and charged the glass. That resulted in a chain-link fence around the school and playground to better separate the pronghorns and the school children.

Pronghorns have large eyes with a 320 degree field of vision. This makes them very hard to sneak up on.

They are also very fast. The pronghorn has a large heart and lungs and hollow hair. They have been clocked at 43 to 53 miles per hour and are the second fastest land animal. Only the cheetah is faster, but the pronghorn can can sustain high speeds longer than cheetahs. Because they are so much faster than its current predators, it has been suggested that they evolved their running ability to escape from extinct predators such as the American cheetah.

It was a treat to see the pronghorns at close range. Someday I hope to get some pictures of pronghorns in their natural environment.

 I recently got a photocopy from my cousin showing a picture of my grandfather, Edwin Q. Cannon, with a large pronghorn antelope he shot in Dagget County in the late 1940s or early 1950s.

Updated August 2014: We visited Colorado in August and after I climbed Mt. Princeton I saw some pronghorn antelope grazing in a field off the road outside Buena Vista. I also saw some later in the trip on our way back to Denver, but was not able to stop and photograph them.
Baby pronghorn and its mother outside Buena Vista.
The mother, middle, has two spiky horns. The pronghorn to the left looks like it has a defective horn that is curling around to its forehead.

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