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.