Chihuahuan pronghorn roam range on Fort Huachuca
February 14, 2012
FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. (Feb. 14, 2012) -- Chihuahuan pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) are found only in a few locations, and only in North America. Fortunately for those who reside in or visit here, Fort Huachuca is one place where this species can be found.
Although native to this area, the Chihuahuan pronghorn disappeared completely in the 1940s, and the state began its efforts to rebuild the population.
"In the 1950s, [the Arizona] Game and Fish Department brought pronghorn down here from up on the Mogollon Rim, about an hour east of Flagstaff," said Sheridan Stone, Fort Huachuca wildlife biologist, Environmental and Natural Resources Division. "They did OK, and when I got here in 1987, we had about 40 to 50 head of pronghorn on the west range, north of the cantonment and up around where the [unmanned aerial systems] buildings are now."
That December, some actual Chihuahuan pronghorn were brought over to southeast Arizona from western Texas.
Moving the pronghorn was a delicate, intricate process that involved special containers and conditions because pronghorn are prone to the stress-induced medical condition, capture myopathy, which causes the muscle tissue and organs to break down, typically resulting in death.
Nearly 100 pronghorn were transported, with 85 going to Buenos Aries National Wildlife Refuge and 14 to Fort Huachuca. That population has grown slowly, and is probably at its peak for the 24 years that they have been here, Stone said.
"The population we had on the west range has died-out," said Stone. "We don't know for sure why, but it was probably habitat, predation and things like that. When a population gets down low, it gets to be pretty easy pickings for predators. It may be the case that the herd we had on the north part of the fort did OK when the conditions -- weather conditions, vegetation and precipitation were OK, but they couldn't persist over time and died out.
"The population that we have now has done well," he added, "They made it through drought and fire and are doing OK."
Pronghorn are the fastest mammals in North America after the cheetah. At an average of three feet tall, their long, spindly legs can sometimes carry them up to speeds around 60 miles per hour. Their lightning speed and keen sense of sight are their biggest tools for survival in the wild.
They do not cross roads, and they will not jump fences, so the pronghorn people see on the fort are not likely to migrate elsewhere.
Pronghorn can be spotted from off-post near the Southern Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery on Buffalo Soldier Trail in Sierra Vista and on post in the grasslands near Garden Canyon. They prefer to be in the open where they can see when predators are coming.
"One of the goals that we're doing on the fort is to improve grassland for training purposes and for conservation of soil and vegetation, and whatever grassland animals are there should benefit," said Stone. "Fortunately, Fort Huachuca's landscape and particularly our land use activities, which is testing and training, [does not] have any direct conflict with almost any wildlife as long as we manage for habitat and wildlife."
Although pronghorn hunting is allowed on the fort with a proper license, Stone said it does not inhibit the growth of the herd because it has strict limitations. Once someone takes one, they cannot take another in their lifetime.
He said he believes the ability to hunt game keeps people interested and engaged in the management of that species and its habitat so there is a population there to hunt.
"People value animals that they can see, photograph and hunt," he said.
Hunting can also enable a herd to grow if there are too many bucks and significantly fewer doe.
"I want people to care about the wildlife in some way -- either a spiritual, or hunting or 'I have a picture of my grandfather with this animal and it's stuck in my mind' -- I want people to be connected to wildlife in small and large ways," Stone concluded.
One way the Natural Resources Division keeps up with the pronghorn numbers is through communication with the community. Stone welcomes emails with any photos or sightings at either of his email addresses: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. He also advises people to stay in their vehicle when they spot the pronghorn because they will stay for quite some time.