Pronghorns (Antilocapra americana) are even-toed ungulates (hoofed mammals), also known as artiodactyls. They can be found in western and central North America. Their historical range included parts of Mexico and Canada, but they mostly reside in the United States today. Pronghorns are the fastest land animals in the Western Hemisphere. They can even sustain high speeds longer than cheetahs! Pronghorns also have the longest land migration in the continental United States. The only other land animal to travel farther in North America is the caribou. The closest living relatives of the pronghorn are giraffes and okapis. Pronghorns are recognized by distinctive white markings in several areas of their bodies, including across their necks and on their bellies, breasts, sides, and rumps. Males and females have horns, with females having very short horns, usually just a bump. Pronghorn horns are slender, flattened bones that grow from the skull. Unlike many other ungulates, the horns point backwards. Skin covers the bone on the horn and develops into a sheath made of keratin which is shed and regrown every year. The sheaths are branched. In the early 20th century, wildlife conservationists considered extinction of the pronghorn probable. Threats to pronghorns include overexploitation (hunting), habitat loss and fragmentation, development, and livestock grazing. However, conservation, management, and enforcement measures to save the pronghorn in the mid-1900s helped the species make an incredible recovery. Now back from the brink, the species overall is no longer considered endangered or vulnerable. While pronghorns have recovered from near-extinction, two subspecies—the Peninsular pronghorn and Sonoran pronghorn—are critically endangered and listed on the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Threats continue, but organizations like the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Wildlife Conservation Society are working to ensure pronghorns have safe migration routes and habitat corridors, allowing them to move to different areas of suitable habitat unimpeded by fences, roads, and other obstacles.
Photo and haiku by: Samantha Oester