The other day, a grade school student told me that the fastest animal in North America was the antelope. She was partly right; it is the Pronghorn antelope. Pronghorns are not true antelope, but they closely resemble their African cousins*.
Pronghorn can be seen on the open prairies and sagebrush plains from the Rocky Mountains to California. They graze in groups on short grasses in the open country. Like deer, Pronghorn are mostly nocturnal, but they can often be seen in the early morning or late in the afternoon.
Though rather small (weighing 75 to 130 pounds), the Pronghorn look quite stately. Their coats are pale tan, with white on their lower sides and two broad white bands across their throats. Pronghorn don't shed their horns as deer do, but they shed their horn coverings. Both the male and female have horns, but those of the bucks (males) are often larger. The bucks also have a black muzzle and neck patches, which are absent in the females.
Whenever I drive through the western states, I watch for these beautiful animals. They can often be seen from the car, sometimes very close to the road. Unlike deer, Pronghorns don't depend on a lot of natural cover to conceal them from danger. Their color pattern helps them blend in with their surroundings, both summer and winter. With their keen eyesight, they can spot a predator at a great distance, and their large ears detect the slightest sound. Also, they can easily outrun any animal they see.
The Pronghorn's strong legs are built for speed. Their lung capacity is large, and their hearts are twice as big as any other mammal of their size. When being pursued, they can reach a speed of 60 miles per hour and maintain it for several minutes, leaping in great 20-foot strides. When a Pronghorn runs off, the hair on its rump patch stands up to serve as an alert to others.
While sagebrush is their favorite browsing food, Pronghorn will eat an assortment of weeds, grasses and shrubs. It is said that Pronghorn saved the Two-Footeds from starvation. The Great Mystery sent Pronghorn to teach the people about their mortality, and to show them that they would have nothing to fear. The Pronghorn told the people to use his own coat if they are cold, and to eat his flesh if they are hungry. This is how they honored the gift of life from the Great Mystery. The message from the story of the Pronghorn to indigenous peoples is "Do it now; don't wait any longer." These lessons carried the Pronghorn and the people who lived by it through centuries of survival.
*EDITORíS NOTE: The pronghorn is the last surviving member of the Antilocapridae family and is found only in North America. During the Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs there were at least 13 different pronghorn genera on this continent; today there is only a single species.
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