A doe antelope— correctly called pronghorn, or, if you want to get technical, Antilocapra Americana— has been strolling around the field and hillside south of our house for several days. She probably separated herself from the little band of 6 or 7 that has been roaming through this area all spring.
Yesterday morning, we saw her standing still, and realized that a fawn was nursing. After a few minutes, the little one zipped up the hill, running and pirouetting, bowing his head to kick his hind feet in the air, then spinning back to her side and making playful butting motions. For a half hour, he alternated nursing with exercising. Then the doe moved down into the field where the alfalfa and grasses are tall, and the fawn lay down, becoming instantly invisible. The doe grazed on up the hill, past the fence, and out of sight.
Last evening, as we sat on the deck, we spotted the fawn’s head raised above the grass like an exotic flower, no doubt breaking protocol to look for its mother. According to experts, females nurse their fawns two or three times a day during the three to four weeks the little ones spend in hiding under vegetation from predators. The females also bed fawns down in safe spots. After the babies are weaned, the does lead them to food and water, interacting with them only 20 to 25 minutes a day.
I do love looking things up, but of course one hazard of research is that the reader may wander off down byways that are not where one was heading, but are an interesting destination anyway. On one dusty side trail, I discovered this tidbit: that the pronghorn is as fast at mating as he is at sprinting over the prairie: conception is usually accomplished, said the source, with one short thrust.
Before you feel too sorry for the females, though, consider that they use several strategies to choose a mate. Since the males gather harems of females during the September breeding season, a female may visit several such groups until she decides which male she wants. When she goes into estrus, she returns to the chosen one.
And if she wants to escape, she often can: the pronghorn is the fastest land mammal of North America and the Western Hemisphere (the only animal faster is a cheetah, which antelope don’t have to escape in South Dakota).
I also have learned that, in order to escape detection, the young have almost no odor. We’ve also seen the doe wander seemingly at random around the area where she stashed the young one in the morning; maybe she’s trying to be sure she’s not followed by a coyote, but perhaps she is having trouble finding the kid.
Last night we spotted seven antelope silhouetted on top of our hill, and watched them scatter down the hillside toward the greener grass in the bottom. And among them, skittering and frolicking, was one that was clearly smaller than the rest.
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota
© 2018, Linda M. Hasselstrom
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