Western North America


Prairie and desert

One of a kind

The pronghorn is an original Native American. It has no close relative on this or any other continent. This interesting animal goes by many names: pronghorn antelope, prongbuck, and American antelope. The pronghorn is often called an antelope, and it does look like many antelope species. Yet it is different enough to warrant its own taxonomic family, Antilocapridae. Read on to learn more about this one-of-a-kind critter!

Horns or antlers?

The horns of the pronghorn help make it unique: they are a cross between horns and antlers, with qualities of both. True antlers are made of bone and shed each year; true horns are made of compressed keratin that grows from a bony core and are never shed. The horns adorning the pronghorn are neither true horns nor true antlers. Instead, the sheath is made of keratin but the horns shed yearly.

True horns have only one point, not the prongs or forks that antlers have. Yet the male (buck) pronghorn's horns can grow to be 10 inches (25 centimeters) long with a forward-facing prong. Hence its name: pronghorn. Female pronghorn (called does) also have horns, but they are much smaller. Pronghorn are the only animals in the world that have forked horns that shed each year!

The pronghorn is the fastest mammal in the New World, able to sprint up to 53 miles (86 kilometers) per hour.
The pronghorn is the only surviving member of the Antilocapridae family.
A pronghorn fawn can walk just 30 minutes after birth.
Pronghorn have excellent vision: they can see movement as far as 3 miles (5 kilometers) away.
A herd of pronghorn moves together in an oval-shaped formation.
The song "Home on the Range" really refers to pronghorn in the famous line, "Where the deer and the antelope play."
Peninsular pronghorn are also known as ghosts of the desert. Their coloration allows them to blend in with the surrounding terrain.
Pronghorn have the largest eyes of any North American ungulate in relation to body size. Each eyeball is about 1.4 inches (36 millimeters) in diameter.

The San Diego Zoo has had pronghorn on and off since at least 1925. Our first birth (twins, of course!) occurred in 1949.

In 1969, land was purchased to create what is now the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Caretakers stayed on the property to protect it and the animals that arrived to live at the new facility. A pair of pronghorn was one of these early arrivals. The doe became the caretakers' alarm clock, scratching on the door of their trailer when ready for breakfast. The free-roaming pronghorn followed the caretakers around the huge property, much like pet dogs. They even accompanied the humans when they opened the gates to visitors. On jeep patrols around the property, the doe ran alongside the vehicle!

Today, five pronghorn bucks make their home next to the camels in the Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey.

No mammal, other than humans and perhaps the bison, has figured so prominently in the history of pioneer America as the pronghorn. They furnished the Native Americans with meat and hides. Early travelers to America's West told of pronghorn herds dotting the plains as far as the eye could see. They were more numerous than bison. About 100 million pronghorn provided settlers with plenty of pronghorn steak. But as more people arrived in the West, pronghorn habitat and food declined. By 1920, there were only about 13,000 pronghorn left.

Part of this major decline was due to hunting. Early settlers tied handkerchiefs to poles and waved them in the air in a technique called flagging. This attracted curious pronghorn within gunshot range. Flagging is now illegal, and protection of habitat and restrictions on hunting have allowed the pronghorn to recover a bit.

Of the five pronghorn subspecies, the peninsular pronghorn Antilocapra americana peninsularis is at critical risk. Only 150 peninsular pronghorn remain in Baja California, Mexico. Hunting, agriculture, and cattle ranching (along with livestock fences) have led to the rapid decline of this subspecies.

But help is on the way! San Diego Zoo Global participates as a supporting partner to reestablish the peninsular pronghorn in protected areas of Baja California. Breeding pens, which are acres in size, allow translocated pronghorn to be monitored while having room to behave naturally. When they get released, the pronghorn are well prepared for life in their new home. An assurance herd of pronghorn lives at the Los Angeles Zoo, in case a natural disaster or disease wipes out the herds in the wild.

You can help us bring pronghorn and other species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.