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I saw my first pronghorn in the Painted Desert in Arizona. I was very excited when I saw it from the van in which we were traveling in one of those wonderful vacations that we used to take.

Although these animals are called “antelope” in most of the United States, they are not antelopes as we know them in Asia and Africa.

The modern pronghorn is a last surviving species of a family of ungulates that once roamed over much of North America. This family is called the Antilocapridae, which literally means “Antelope-goats.”

However, although they are odd-toed ungulates, they aren’t closely related to goats or antelopes.

Indeed, it has been discovered that their closest relatives are the giraffes and the okapi.

It is widely known that the modern pronghorn is the fastest animal in North America. They can sprint at over 50 mph and can cruise at 30 mph for miles. It is thought that they evolved such speed and endurance because their main predator was the North American “cheetahs,” which were similar to the modern Old World cheetahs but were more closely related to the jaguarundi and the cougar (both of which are now in the genus Puma— and yes, I’m aware the cougars and cheetahs are also relatives.)

The North American Pronghorn Foundation is an important conservancy for the species and its habitat. The animals preserved as a game species and as a uniquely North American species.

Such an organizations are needed. A century ago, there were only about 20,000 pronghorn left. Habitat had been destroyed. The animals had been shot as pests and for food, but in the past century,  this animal’s populations have rebounded, and there may be as many as a million pronghorn ranging from Saskatchewan and Alberta to the Mexican states of Sonora, Baja California Sur, and San Luis Potosi.

The animals are very sensitive to blue tongue disease, which domestic sheep transmit to the herds. Although their numbers are healthy now, it is possible that they could experience another crash. They are not currently endangered, but they have proven very sensitive to our tinkering with nature.

Let’s hope their migration is not so affected too much by development. These animals are survivors. They have survived droughts, Ice Ages, and prairie fires. They were once hunted by extinct North American cheetahs and then were hunted by wolves.

They will probably survive us, simply because they are an oft-promoted game species and their meat is supposed to be quite palatable. They do have economic value, and for that reason alone, I think we should expect the pronghorn to thrive into the next millennium.

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