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Prong Power

America’s fastest mammal, the pronghorn can see you coming from miles away.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Long before you glanced out the car window and noticed that pronghorn buck poised off in the distance, it had you spotted, at least three miles away, cruising up the highway.

Add phenomenal eyesight to a pronghorn’s unique traits. It’s also pegged as North America’s fastest mammal, clocking in at speeds up to 50 mph (cheetahs win the global title). Keen vision and fast feet help the species escape from coyotes and other predators. When necessary, pronghorns can run for miles without tiring, thanks to an extra large heart and lungs.

Though called antelope, technically they’re not. Pronghorns (Antilocapra americana) belong to a family all their own: Antilocapridae. Indigenous only to North America, Texas pronghorns inhabit rolling, open grasslands in the Panhandle, Trans-Pecos and eastern Permian Basin regions. Named for their branched head gear, pronghorns grow hollow horns — not antlers — over a hard bony core. They’re the only mammals in the world that annually shed their horn covers.

In Texas, wildlife biologists closely monitor populations of pronghorn, a prized big-game animal that’s harvested by permit only. Over the years, drought and malnutrition have gradually reduced numbers. One reason: Pronghorns seldom jump fences more than 3 feet high, which restricts their movement when forbs become scarce.

There’s good news, though. Adequate rainfall in the past year should buoy the state’s pronghorn numbers, which were estimated to be 12,341 in summer 2006.

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