‘Not too late to secure these ancient paths’

Pronghorns are one of the few species to survive from the last Ice Age, when animals like the American cheetah may have been one of the few capable of chasing down the speedy prairie animal.

The unique story of seasonal pronghorn migrations from northeastern Montana to Canada is documented in a new multimedia website presentation.

“On the Move: Pronghorn Migrations Across Seasons” documents in photos, maps, video, audio and stories how the ancient species has adapted over time to live in the often harsh prairie environment. The StoryMap also delves into new problems pronghorns face because of human development including roads, fences and climate change.

Developed in a collaboration between The Nature Conservancy and National Wildlife Federation, the interactive story follows the life of one doe as a way to educate the public, taking viewers through an entire year of what the animals face during different seasons. The end goal is to increase public awareness to build momentum to protect prairie landscapes so species like pronghorns continue to thrive.

“It’s not too late to secure these ancient pathways,” said Kelsey Molloy, a Nature Conservancy range ecologist. “With the cooperation of landowners, scientists, agencies and conservation organizations, a future for these beautiful animals can be assured.”

The push for pronghorn conservation comes as researchers are securing more information thanks to GPS technology on how far the animals move each year, along with when, where and how.

“If we can grasp the vast scope of the pronghorns’ journey across the seasons — and the many challenges they face — then we can adapt and advance toward a holistic approach and promising frontier in wildlife conservation,” said Andrew Jakes, wildlife biologist for the National Wildlife Federation.

Jakes was involved in a six-year study of pronghorns that trekked from Montana into Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada, as well as nonmigratory pronghorns.

The collars showed one pronghorn walking across the ice on Fort Peck Reservoir while another was documented running down Highway 2 for six hours during a blizzard as the temperature plunged below zero.

The doe that stars in “On the Move” is indicative of the hardships that a 110-pound animal goes through to survive in a rugged and tough environment, Jakes said.

Pronghorns often are referred to as antelope, but are not related to true antelope like those found in Africa. Instead, they are a distinct species unique to North America. Fossil evidence places the species on the landscape as far back as about 17 million years ago with the animals diversifying into 12 different species.

Jakes said “On the Move” is also interactive. Under the conservation tab visitors can learn how to make fences friendly to pronghorns (they crawl under fences rather than jump them like deer). Citizen scientists can download the app WildlifeXing to help document migratory pathways.