Pronghorn in Yellowstone National Park at Risk
Yellowstone’s northern pronghorn, or antelope, herd is the last remaining herd in the world’s first national park. Pronghorn participate in a rare long-distance migration and once migrated over 70 miles to find adequate winter habitat. Since the turn of the 20th Century habitat has been drastically limited due to fences and development on private lands north of the park. The current population of around 200 animals is isolated and the population remains at risk to disease, harsh winters, harassment from predators and degraded habitat.
“Ghosts of Predators Past”
Pronghorn, due to their unique biology, don’t generally jump fences like elk or deer. They crawl under them. Pronghorn evolved in the Pleistocene when they were prey for speedy cheetahs and hyenas. Thus the pronghorn’s current status as the fastest land animal in North America is, in the words of pronghorn researcher John A. Byers, a “ghost of (these) predators past.” With an ability to run at 30 mph indefinitely with top speeds pushing 60 mph, they simply outran everything.
So as populous as pronghorn appear in many places in the west, they are strangely ill-adapted to the modern world where private lands, and many public lands, are fragmented by fences and development. These “new threats” not only restrict their greatest asset to escape predators but also their ability to migrate over long distances required to find adequate snow-free habitat and forage.
Needing Room to Roam
Our national parks are integral parts of a larger landscape and are deeply connected and vital to the health of surrounding wild lands and gateway communities. In the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, Yellowstone National Park’s 2.2 million acres serve as the core for a diversity of wildlife species that spend part of the year inside the park. As wildlife move from one place to another they do not distinguish between state, federal and private land; they go where there is habitat. Conserving pronghorn migration on public and private lands outside of the Yellowstone National Park offers the last best hope for this iconic species.
On the Ground Solutions
Over the summer 2010 the Yellowstone Field Office worked with landowners and the Gallatin National Forest to help restore the ancient pronghorn migration pathway north of Yellowstone National Park. By the time snow started to fly, NPCA staff and over 60 dedicated volunteers removed two miles of wooden fence and barbed wire, and modified fences in several critical bottlenecks that improved the pronghorn’s corridor from just a few feet to over a quarter mile in places. Catching the attention of the Great American Country Channel, the Yellowstone Field Office spent a few days with a crew from Nashville talking pronghorn and national parks for 46 million viewers on the “Top 20 Country Countdown.”
Helping Pronghorn in Grand Teton
Our Yellowstone pronghorn migration work has been so successful, we recently also began similar field work near Grand Teton National Park. Learn about our work helping more pronghorn antelope in Grand Teton.
Watch the next generation of conservationists in action in this clip from Nickelodeon's NickNews with Linda Ellerbee.
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See footage of the Grand Teton National Park pronghorn migration.
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You Can Play a Critical Part!
We need your help to ensure that our children and grandchildren get to experience the thrill of observing one of the fastest animals on the face of the earth within the sanctuary of America’s first national park. Sign up for news and alerts about our national parks including NPCA's monthly e-newsletter, Park Lines.