You can only see pronghorn antelope in the northern part of Yellowstone National Park. That seems to be true with a lot of animals in the park, but it’s officially true with the pronghorn. In my trip I didn’t see any big herds, but got to meet a few charismatic individuals and see some small family groups once we were near Roosevelt.
What was striking about the animals was that they watched us with their huge dark eyes and even approached us. (A sign somebody may have fed them, perhaps?) We ran into one on Specimen Ridge. She kept walking down the trail towards us, eyes making contact all the time. We chatted to her. She eventually veered to the side, but was comfortable close by. All the pronghorns we saw were engaged in the encounter, but not overly scared.
Both sexes have horns, but only the boys’ horns sprout prongs or points. They’re native and endemic to the west (they’re from here and only here). They’re the only animal in the world to shed their horns each year, the National Parks Service says.
The most unfortunate thing about the pronghorn antelope another opportunity to tell you that you’ve gotten an animal’s name wrong. Just like the American buffalo isn’t really a buffalo, the pronghorn isn’t really an antelope under the current taxonomic regime, which requires antelopes have antlers that don’t shed.
The more serious problem is that the animals in Yellowstone are at risk of disappearing. A 2006 report from the National Parks Conservation Association argued that while the pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) isn’t endangered, this population is and deserves saving. The park population, the only one that many Americans may get to see, needs to migrate throughout the year, but it has cut its route short because of human development.
The herd migrates north to an area near Gardiner, MT, in the winter, but that area has been abused by natural gas development. National Geographic explained how researchers found that the area pronghorn used to have eight migration 100-mile migration routes (longest on the continent), but now they’re down to two and one of those has a bottleneck that’s only 328 feet wide.
Since its inception in 1872, Yellowstone National Park has managed its pronghorn with aheavy hand; successfully alternating between efforts to expand and decrease the size of the herd. Inrecent years, the park has shifted to management that emphasizes natural population regulation andthe pronghorn population has been stable at 205-252 animals since 1995. Wildlife biologists andpark officials believe this number is too low to ensure long-term survival.