Columbus Zoo & Aquarium
At the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, we have a one acre Pronghorn & Bison exhibit in the North American Region of the zoo. Although lots of the Rocky Mountain States refer to them as a nuisance, lots of Midwesterners & Easterners are not familiar with them. People often ask the Docents – “What is THAT animal?”
Pronghorn are only found in North America. Pronghorn are not a true “antelope.” But I sing the Song – “Where the Deer & the Antelope Play” to try to tell people about the Pronghorn. They are about 34 inches at the shoulder and about 48 to 57 inches long. Males weigh approximately 90 to 130 pounds and females weigh 75 to 110 pounds. Their population used to be around 40 million animals but it is currently down to 750,000 mainly due to over-hunting. They are FAST. The only animal that is faster is the cheetah. BUT – Pronghorn can sustain the speed while the cheetah is only fast in short bursts. They can run for a long distances at 50 to 60 miles per hour. How can they do that? They have a large capacity trachea (windpipe) and lungs. At 2 days of age – a pronghorn can outrun a human!!!
The males have 9 scent marking glands: 2 over the rump, 4 between the toes, 2 beneath the ears and 1 above the tail. They are used to mark territories, attract potential mates, identify a mate, alert danger, or deter other males intruding in their territory.
Pronghorn have forked horns that in males can be up to 12 to 18 inches. The horn has 2 parts: a bony core and a black out sheath of keratin. Unlike many other animals, they shed the keratin sheath. It re-grows after the breeding season. Female Pronghorn have much shorter horns – only 3 to 4 inches in length.
Pronghorn are not capable of jumping fences – so they often crawl under them.
Pronghorn have long hollow hair and a fine inner hair which insulates them in the winter which is shed in warmer weather. Their rump hair is white and makes a powder puff to signal alarm or danger.
Breeding Season is traditionally in mid-September. With gestation approximately 252 days – birthing is around mid-May to early June.
We currently have 6 Pronghorn at the Columbus Zoo. They are:
Jean – Yellow Ear Tag – Right Ear Beth – Pink Tag
Jasmine – Red Ear Tag Gunner – Yellow Tag – Left Ear
Belle – No Tag Bruce – Blue Tag
We do not breed them but obtain baby pronghorn from the Minnesota Zoo which is in Apple Valley MN, south of Minneapolis. When Pronghorn are born they typically weigh about 5 to 9 pounds so they are quite small when they arrive in Columbus. They arrive at about 2 weeks of age and the Docents, Volunteers and Staff jump right in caring for them. After they are officially weighed in the “Watch” begins.
EVERY person doing the Pronghorn Watch must have a TB test before they are permitted in with the baby Pronghorn. The zoo brings in a team of laboratory technicians to do TB testing for this watch and for other areas that need the test.
When the Pronghorn are still in Quarantine – the “Watchers” must wear shoe coverings to try not to transmit any diseases. If a “Watcher” or a Keeper is going from the Pronghorn babies to another animal – then they must wear scrubs.
We have up to 70 people doing this watch from 7:00 AM until 7:00 PM with people doing 4 hour shifts. Most people sign up for a weekly shift so it might make it is easier to plan for the scheduler.
Our duties actually with the Baby Pronghorn? We try to acclimate them to being in a zoo setting. Pronghorn are flighty so we talk in a normal or loud tone of voice. We pet them. We poke them with a finger to try to simulate a Vet giving them an injection.
We encourage them to eat what is provided in the small yard. They are given a product called Animax (a milk pellet), oats, alfalfa, a salt lick and water. The keepers bring around bottles filled with Doe Milk Replacer, which is powdered formula and is good for infants. As they get older and eat more “adult” type pronghorn food, the bottles are decreased.
The “Watchers” sit around and get to interact with the Baby Pronghorn. As our Docents get a little older some of us have found that sitting in the straw was becoming difficult. With Permission from the Keeper, some of us have learned that a small camp stool works wonderfully. They are small and allow us to pick them up quickly when the Pronghorn start to RUN!! Weather in Ohio can be a little warm in the summer so we have learned to use “Cooling Towels.” We have to keep the “Watchers” comfortable.
We often have visitors near the small Baby Pronghorn Yard: bunnies who somehow find a way through the fencing and come for the oats; bird also come for the oats. Since the main Pronghorn & Bison Yard is right next to the Baby Pronghorn Yard, we often hear a snort and see a full sized Bison on the other side of the fence. AND – the Adult Pronghorn love to come and watch the baby Pronghorn as they grow.
Later the one acre yard is sectioned off so the adult Pronghorn and the Bison are kept in the south part of the yard. The Baby Pronghorn which are now almost grown are placed in the half of the large yard. They have plenty of places to run. Since the “Watchers” are in the Pronghorn Yard with the animals we get LOTS of questions about – “How did you get in there? Can I come in there with you?” AND – Always — “What is that animal?”
Being a Baby Pronghorn Sitter or Watcher is a FUN Job at the Zoo.
Pronghorn Page of the Rolling Hills Wildlife Preserve.
Lori Monska – Keeper at the Columbus Zoo
Melanie Frost – docent – Columbus Zoo & Aquarium
Columbus Zoo & Aquarium Docent Manual