The North American pronghorn, found in Canada, USA and northern Mexico is the sole living representative of a New World group of antelopelike ruminants. There is also, however, a body of opinion that suggests this animal should be included in the cattle family Bovidae, but it is kept apart on account of its curious horn structure.
During the Pleistocene epoch, which ended about 10,000 years ago, there were at least 12 different species in this family. Today, only the pronghorn itself survives.
Despite appearances, pronghorns are not true deer. They are the sole members of a separate group of hoofed animals called the Antilocapridae. Unlike true deer, pronghorns do not have antlers, but have horns like antelope, although they are forked like those of a deer.
Pronghorns are the fastest land mammals in the Americas. They have been recorded racing along at 72 kmh (45 mph). This ability may have arisen because of its need to outpace the now-extinct American cheetah, which preyed on it. Remarkably though, these ungulates, with two toes on each foot, are unable to jump well. In the early twentieth century, their numbers had declined, but now populations have recovered thanks to protective measures.
Pronghorns get their name from the prongs sticking out halfway up their backward-curving horns. Male pronghorns are slightly larger than the females. The males also have black masks on their faces.
In late autumn, pronghorns gather into large herds of 1,000 or more. They spend the winter in these herds and split into smaller single-sex groups when spring arrives. In October, older males compete for small territories, which they use to attract groups of females. Once females have entered a territory, the resident male will not allow other males near them.
Distribution: Southern Canada to northern Mexico.
Habitat: Grassland and desert.
Weight: 40 - 60 kg (88 - 132 lb); females lighter on average.
Length: 130 - 150 cm (52 - 60 in).
Maturity: About 15 months, but males do not actually breed until they are 3 years old.
Gestation Period: About 235 days; mating takes place in mid-September.
Breeding: 1 - 3 young born in spring.
Food: Herbivorous, eating flowering plants, shrubs, grasses and even cacti.
Lifespan: 10 - 15 years maximum.
The tail is short and relatively inconspicuous, white in colour like the rump area.
The eyes are large and positioned high on the head, ensuring a good field of vision.
The horns are very evident in males. The forward-pointing spur accounts for their name.
UNDER NOT OVER
Pronghorn antelopes will run under ranchers' fences at speed, instead of jumping them. They live in small groups in summer.