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Where did all the pronghorn go?

A few years ago, it used to be common to spot the pronghorn grazing and gliding throughout the fields along the eastern portion of Highway 24. Today, the pronghorn ñ often mistakenly referred to as antelope ñ are not so visible. The pronghorn habitat in eastern El Paso County is slowly shrinking.The pronghorn, which is a herd animal and cousin to the antelope, is not only unique to North America but also the fastest land animal in the Northern Hemisphere . According to National Geographic, the pronghorn has been clocked at about 53 miles an hour. Although the cheetah is actually faster, pronghorns can outrun the cheetah because they can maintain their speed for a longer period.Over the last 10 to 15 years, the pronghorn habitat has declined in the area around Falcon because of development, said Michael Seraphin, Falcon resident and public relations officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Seraphin said the pronghorn have been pushed out of the area, which decreases their visibility. He said their habitat used to extend all the way to the base of Pikes Peak.Despite development, pronghorns donít actually move out of the area ñ they might venture ìeast, north or south,î he said. ìThey are not moving anywhere. They can navigate through large expanses; they just donít go where the houses are now.îAlthough the number of pronghorns has declined, the decrease in sightings means they have been pushed out of the areas where they have been traditional observed. Their numbers have dwindled because they arenít having newborns at a rate that replaces the adults. Drought is a factor in the reduction of pronghorn births, and itís also responsible for low survival rates among the fawns, Seraphin said. Pronghorn often have twins, sometimes triplets, but usually only one makes it to adulthood.There is a hunting season for the pronghorn. Overpopulation has created agricultural challenges. ìHundreds of animals eating and walking over your crop can cause a lot of damage,î Seraphin said. The hunting season helps to maintain a consistent balance, he said. However, because of the drought and the waning numbers of pronghorn, Seraphin said hunting licenses for Falcon and eastern El Paso County will likely be reduced 10 to 20 percent this year.In Colorado, pronghorn do not migrate, but Seraphin said in Wyoming the pronghorn travel several hundred miles each year as the weather gets colder. According to the National Wildlife Federation, herds of pronghorn migrate 150 miles each way between Wyomingís Upper Green River Basin and Grand Teton National Park. The caribou is the only other animal that travels farther in North America.The NWF website posts: ìThe 300-mile trip is grueling and requires crossing private property and fences. In the past, pronghorns had to worry about predators and cold weather.†Today, the bigger threats are cars, impassable fences and development.îThe pronghorn are not great at jumping, which creates a problem when they approach ranch fences and roads, Seraphin said. ìThey look to go around a fence or road,î he added. ìThey memorize where the lower fences are and where they can get under it. They travel single file after one another.îHe also said that since the pronghorn are relatively sedentary at night, they do not have as many deadly encounters with motorists as the deer.Most people only see pronghorn from a distance because they are long gone before anyone can get close to them. Seraphin said well-meaning residents have picked up a baby pronghorn thinking itís lost or abandoned, but the mother usually leaves the baby when she eats so she doesnít attract predators to the newborn. ìThe young are born with an instinct to lay still,î Seraphin said. ìThey feed, then sit, hide and blend in. Even in a drought and when the grass is very short, you can barely see the babies hiding in the grass.î The newborn pronghorn has no scent, which makes it a difficult target for predators.During the mating season in spring, Seraphin said the pronghorn herd disperses. ìPregnant females leave and go off with another female, which is usually not pregnant, and then has the baby,î he said. ìThey do this so if a coyote finds them, it is not the whole herd.îMore facts on the pronghorn, according to the NWF and National Geographic:

  • Unlike deer or moose, pronghorn truly have a ìhorn.î They shed the sheath once a year, but the base remains. The following year, the pronghorn will re-grow a bigger one. The malesí horns are normally about 10 to 12 inches long.
  • The pronghorn is only about 3 to 4 feet tall at the shoulder.
  • Pronghorns are herbivores, dining on grasses, sagebrush and other prairie plants. They digest their food twice, regurgitating to eat again. The regurgitated food is called cud.
  • They donít need water ñ the plants provide them with enough (when the plants arenít affected by a drought).
  • Pronghorns have great vision.†Their large eyes can spot predators far away, which is helpful on the flat grassland habitat of the†Great Plains.
  • Pronghorns are related to antelope ñ and goats.
  • The pronghorn fur is reddish-brown, and they have white markings on their face, neck stomach and rump. When a pronghorn sees a predator, it raises the white hairs on its rump.
  • Pronghorns have an average lifespan of about 10 years.

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