At the beginning of the 19th century, explorers Lewis and Clark prompted a discussion that continues to this day when they chronicled their discovery of the pronghorn.
William Clark described the distinctly American pronghorn as “like the antelope or gazella of Africa.” The comparison stuck, and the question took hold. What is the difference between pronghorn and antelope?
Pronghorn vs. Antelope: Some Similarities
The pronghorn and the African antelope do resemble one other. Both are small, sleek and slender and able to run at incredible speeds. Each has horns, light brown coats and white markings, despite living on different sides of the planet.
A Few Differences
The animals differ in that pronghorns shed their horns annually, while antelope keep theirs for life. North America is the only place where pronghorns live. The majority of antelopes live in Africa, but small populations also dwell in parts of the Middle East and Asia.
Keep reading for more intriguing facts about pronghorns, details about Nat Hab’s trips to preeminent national parks in the lower 48 and other Yellowstone wildlife that add to the excitement of an adventure in the West.
The American Serengeti
Often called the American Serengeti, Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley plays host to Nat Hab trips in search of bears, bison, wolves and ungulates, including the park’s pronghorn herd.
In 1872, painter Thomas Moran captured the beauty of Yellowstone on a U.S. government expedition that led the way for the establishment of Yellowstone National Park, the first of its kind in the nation.
The sprawling valley, the bright hues of the plains that captured Moran’s imagination and the reflective Lamar River that runs through them sustain the 500 or so members of the pronghorn herd in the summer months.
It’s a distant area of the park, far enough away from the crowds that waking up early and heading out into the plains seldom fails to provide a front-row seat to Mother Nature’s daily show.
Yellowstone’s wolves and coyotes both prey on pronghorns. The predators’ stealth and skill meet with the speed and dexterity of North America’s fastest land mammal. Able to sprint at speeds of up to 60 miles an hour, they are only matched on Earth by the cheetahs of Africa.
Conservation in Action
During the swing season, Yellowstone’s pronghorn herd migrates more than a hundred miles north in search of fertile pastures during the winter. Since 2010, conservation measures by environmental organizations, spearheaded by the National Park Conservation Association, ensure that this crucial path remains clear.
Project Pronghorn works with local landowners outside of the park and nearby community organizers to implement land bridges over highways. Volunteers remove the lowest tiers of wire fences along the park’s borders, letting pronghorns pass underneath and keeping the cattle inside private properties at bay.
The herd has doubled in size since 2004, a win-win towards keeping a healthy balance between Yellowstone’s animal residents and the people who live outside its borders.
Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley
The Upper Yellowstone River weaves its way through the Hayden Valley, drawing wildlife into the fold of the green-carpeted plains and attracting photographers and wildlife enthusiasts in search of adventure.
The valley takes its name from Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, the geologist that led the original expedition which set the stage for the birth of the park.
American bison graze here—the largest American mammal, bison number in the thousands between two herds. The central herd calls the wide stretches of the valley home, as do elk, grizzly and black bears.
Yellowstone’s bison herd makes an impression, spotted through the morning mist along the riverbed in the foreground and silhouetted against Mount Sheridan on the horizon.
Yellowstone’s Avian Life
Bald eagles, osprey, hawks and merlin falcons take to skies above the Hayden Valley. Great blue herons nest in the southern end of the 50-square-mile valley. Ducks, geese and pelicans frolic in the 7-mile stretch of river, and trumpeter swans live up to their name on the northern end of the expanse.
The National Park Service is actively engaged in a program to restore the Yellowstone trumpeter swan population. In recent years rangers released new pairs of the iconic birds into the Hayden Valley ecosystem, bolstering the total population to more than 20 after they declined to just four in 2010.
Nat Hab’s Hidden Yellowstone and Grand Teton Safari visits the Hayden Valley on day four of the eight-day trip, combining it with stops at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Ansel Adams photographed this canyon and accompanying Yellowstone Falls during his survey of the park for the Department of the Interior in 1941.
The resulting black-and-white images moved the public with their fresh vibrance, sparking the imaginations of future generations of photographers and nature lovers that set out to discover the wild vestiges of the American West.
“Yellowstone is so alive you can see its breath.”
—National Geographic photographer Erika Skogg
The Explorers—Past and Present
Lewis and Clark, the Hayden Exhibition—including photographer William Henry Jackson—and Adams paved the way for present-day explorers to embark on their own adventures in Yellowstone, safari-style.
Lewis and Clark used canoes for their journey that included the Yellowstone River. Jackson hauled cumbersome cameras and a portable darkroom using mules and porters. Adams came by train and slept on a bench with 280 pounds of gear in tow while waiting for transportation to the park.
The pictures that Jackson and Adams took captured Yellowstone’s famous geysers, its lakes and scenic wilderness in images that reflected the adventurers behind the lenses of the camera.
Both had a hand in conservation efforts in the park, and each lobbied on the behalf of protecting America’s West for future generations. This same spirit guides Nat Hab’s national park adventures: one that inspires and enlightens while bringing a bigger picture into focus—conservation through exploration.