Biology

In Brief

Antelope migration threatened

July 14, 2006|By FRANK D. ROYLANCE

Biologists studying pronghorn antelope in Wyoming are calling for measures to protect what they say is the longest remaining migration route used by any mammal in the continental United States.

Beginning in October each year, as many as 300 antelope leave their summer feeding and fawning areas in Grand Teton National Park, and walk more than 175 miles to lower winter grazing land between Pinedale and Rock Springs in southwest Wyoming. From March to June, they follow the same route in reverse, part of it crossing high mountains and threading narrow canyons.

It's a route that archaeology suggests they have followed for at least 6,000 years, and one of just two surviving antelope migrations in and out of the rugged Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks region. Six others have been choked off by development, the scientists said, and those antelope populations have vanished.

The sole remaining migration from Grand Teton park passes through bottlenecks as narrow as 130 yards -- hemmed in by newly built homes. Petroleum development poses an additional threat, the study said.

"The migration is in real trouble, and needs immediate recognition and protection," said Joel Berger, a researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Society and lead author of the study.

The work appears in the latest issue of the journal Biology Letters, published in London by the Royal Society. The WCS and the National Park Service collaborated on the study.

Pronghorn antelope migrations are the second-longest of any terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere, after the arctic caribou, the authors said.

While the species is not threatened, Berger said in a release, "an entire population from a national park could be eliminated, leaving a conspicuous gap in the ecology and function of native predator-prey interactions."

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