PRONGHORN ANTELOPE (WA’WATAW) ON THE YAKAMA RESERVATION
Pronghorn Capture Video Clip
In January of 2011 ninety-nine pronghorn antelope were released on to the Yakama Reservation. These are the first pronghorns to occupy reservation rangelands in over 100 years. After six years of work the efforts of the Yakama Nation Wildlife, Vegetation and Range Program and the Central Washington Chapter of Safari Club International finally came to fruition.
The first step in this long process began in 2005 with pronghorn habitat analysis for the rangelands of the Yakama Reservation. This analysis, funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, indicated that there was suitable habitat throughout the shrub-steppe portion of the reservation, with the best habitat in the eastern portion of the East Satus area (Simmons-Rigdon, et al., 2005).
Funding for this project was provided by Shikar Safari Club and the Central Washington Chapter of Safari Club International. Safari Club members, the Nevada Department of Wildlife and numerous volunteers assisted in the capture and transport to the release site.
Pronghorn after their release onto the Yakama Reservation
- The history of pronghorn antelope in Eastern Washington.
The earliest historic records of pronghorns in Washington include mention in Lewis and Clark’s Journals of Indians hunting on both sides of the Snake River for pronghorns near Clarkston, Washington, near Waitsburg and near The Dalles (McCabe, et al.,2004). Archeologist Eugene Hunn (1995) reported that “pronghorn antelope were hunted on the plains of the ‘Big Bend’ of the Columbia until shortly after contact. Deceased Yakama tribal elder, Watson Totus told of pronghorns being hunted near Snipes Mountain during his youth (Washines, 2004). Bill White, former Yakama Nation archeologist, also reported Indian harvest of pronghorns near White Bluffs on the Columbia River near Richland (White, 2004). State hunting licenses issued in 1904 allowed the hunter to harvest one antelope as well as an elk and four deer (Johnson, 1975).
Archeological sites within Washington State that contain pronghorn remains include, Chief Joseph Dam near Bridgeport, Umatilla Mammoth near Umatilla, Marme’s Rockshelter and Avey’s Orchard (Osborne, 1953). Pronghorn remains were also recovered on the Satus Wildlife Area on the Yakama Reservation (Shellenberger, 2009).
Within the State of Oregon, and within 25 miles of the Reservation boundary, pronghorns have reoccupied historic habitat from Biggs to Pendleton within the last 30-40 years. Pronghorns have also been re-established at the fenced in Umatilla Army Depot near Umatilla for the last several decades.
During the late 1930’s and 1940’s pronghorn antelope were released on the Yakima Training Center (Oliver, no date). By the early 1970’s these animals had disappeared, most likely due to a restricted gene pool since the original introduction only included around 20-30 animals. There were also stories of poaching and shooting by the military. Small groups of animals were also moved to other areas within eastern Washington, but did not subsist, probably for the same reasons
- Pronghorns diseases
An extensive literature and internet search reveal that brucellosis and tuberculosis are extremely rare to non-existent in pronghorn antelope. “Pronghorn Ecology and Management” a 2004 comprehensive publication on pronghorns by the Wildlife Management Institute compiled a total of 7,472 pronghorns tested for brucellosis in seven states and provinces over a 50 year period with one serological reactor found in Colorado. In Yellowstone National Park, where pronghorns mingle with brucellosis infected bison, no reactors were detected.
This same publication records one captive pronghorn with miliary tuberculosis, with no detection of the disease in any free ranging pronghorns. In a telephone conversation in 2008 the Nevada State Department of Agriculture veterinarian, Dr. Annette Rink, confirmed that Nevada is considered bovine TB free and has not had a confirmed case of tuberculosis in cattle since 1978 or 1979.
Pronghorn antelope are the only species in the family Antilocapridae and are known among wildlife veterinarians for their disease resistance. Since they are not as closely related to other ruminants they aren’t known to be susceptible to chronic wasting disease or hair loss syndrome, two diseases that are now threatening both deer and elk herds in the western states.
- Crop depredation and competition with livestock
The previously mentioned publication on the ecology and management of pronghorns discusses pronghorn food habits and habitat use in detail. Pronghorns are adapted to use habitat with large expanses of open space with sparse cover. Their primary predator escape strategy is to frequent areas with good visability and to out run predators that try to attack. They avoid areas of heavy cover so that they can readily see the approach of predators and thus avoid areas such as orchards, vineyards or tall crops such as corn. They also avoid wetlands and riparian areas for this same reason. They will sometimes concentrate on smaller fields of alfalfa to the point where there is crop damage. A relatively simple fix in these cases is to have a fence around the field that will exclude pronghorns. A fence of hog wire or a four strand barb wire fence will suffice if properly constructed. A fence 40 inches tall with the bottom wire 12 inches from the ground will deter pronghorns in most cases. Pronghorns normally avoid jumping over obstacles such as fences because they evolved in habitat with very few obstacles that they had to jump.
Electric fences are also effective and much less expensive if a source of electricity is available. Two strands, spaced at 8-10 inches and 3 feet above the ground will discourage pronghorns from entering croplands. A single strand of electric wire painted with molasses as an attractant and 30-36 inches above the ground will also discourage pronghorn access (Schemnitz, 1994).
In regard to competition with livestock, seven pronghorns consume approximately the same volume of forage as one cow. However the diet overlap is not extensive and one pronghorn consume anywhere from 1/15 to 1/50 of the same type of forage that one cow consumes depending on habitat and plant community. Cattle consume primarily grass with a more limited amount of forbs and shrubs. Pronghorn forage principally on forbs during the growing season and shrubs during the winter month with a limited amount of grass being consumed during the early spring months. Pronghorn, which evolved in shrub-steppe and prairie environments, are able to consume and thrive on many plants that are of low palatability to livestock or that are poisonous. Pronghorn will readily consume lupine, loco weed and halogeton, which are poisonous to livestock with no ill effects.
4. Palatability and nutrition of pronghorn meat
Pronghorns are excellent eating if they are not taken during the rut (late August through September). Females are always good to eat. Pronghorns are one of the healthiest sources of red meat available, rating higher than deer, elk, bison and range fed beef according to a University of Wyoming study (Medieros, 2002). Pronghorn hunting will be allowed for tribal members once the population becomes sustainable.
Hunn, E. 1990. Nch’i-Wana “the Big River” Mid-Columbia Indians and Their Land. Univ. of Washington Press.
Johnson, R. 1975. Bighorn Sheep 1974. Washington Game Department Report.
McCabe, R., B. O’Gara and H. Reeves. 2004. Prairie Ghost, Pronghorn and Human Interaction in Early America. Wildlife Management Institute.
Medeiros, L., J. Busboon, R. Field, J. Williams, G. Miller and B. Holmes. 2002. Nutritional Content of Game Meat.Cooperative Extension Service, University of Wyoming, Cheyenne, Wyoming
O’Gara, B., and J. Yoakum. 2004. Pronghorn Ecology and Management. Wildlife Management Institute.
Oliver, W. No date. All about antelope in Washington. Washington Department of Game Report.
Osborne, D. 1953. Archeological Occurrences of Pronghorn Antelope, Bison and Horses in the Columbia Plateau. The Scientific Monthly, Vol.77, No. 5.
Shellenberger, J. 2008, Personal Communication.
Simmons-Rigdon, H., J. Stephenson and A. DeCoteau. 2005. Wa’wataw (Pronghorn) Habitat Analysis on the Yakama Reservation. Yakama Nation Report.
Schemnitz, S. 1994. Pronghorn Antelope Damage Prevention and Control Methods. Cooperative Extension Division, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska.
Washines, E. A. 2004. Personal Communication.
White, W. 2004, Personal Communication.
For more information on this project please contact Jim Stephenson at 865-5121, x6310