With its distinctive markings, an American pronghorn on the prairie range is about as inconspicuous as pepper in salt. But then again, when you can sprint at 60 miles per hour and sustain speeds of around 45 mph for mile after mile, stealth and camouflage aren’t that important.
Built for Speed, John Byers — a zoology professor at the
University of Idaho and one of those rare scientists with a gift
for writing — provides a glimpse into the life of North
America’s fastest mammal.
long, thin hooves and powerhouse lungs and heart evolved over
thousands of years on the Ice Age plains, where lions, tigers,
long-legged bears, hyenas and wolves roamed the landscape. But
unlike many other Ice Age animals, pronghorn survived the retreat
of the glaciers without much change. Now, the pronghorn’s
unique physiology and behavior provide a living window into a
long-gone ecosystem. The animal is one of America’s truly
Built for Speed also lets us in on the
life of a dedicated wildlife biologist. Returning to
Montana’s National Bison Range year after year, Byers
describes the tedious work of recording individual pronghorn
gestures, his conflicted response to watching a coyote munch on a
newborn fawn, and the thrill of racing alongside a pronghorn buck
in a car.
Byers only touches on the more recent history
of human-pronghorn interactions, a history in which the tens of
millions of pronghorn roaming North America at the turn of the 19th
century were reduced by hunting and fencing to less than 20,000 by
1900. But through his steady admiration of pronghorn and the land
that created them, Byers also makes a potent claim for a more
complete recovery of this Plains icon.
Speed: A Year in the Life of Pronghorn
230 pages, hardcover $24.95.
University Press, 2003
You can buy this book and help High Country News, too.
BookSense.com is an on-line family of independent booksellers in communities near you. When you use the link below to buy a book through BookSense.com, you'll not only support local booksellers, you'll also help us: Five-and-a-half percent of each purchase goes to High Country News.