The unique history of the seasonal antelope migrations from northeastern Montana to Canada is documented in a new multimedia website layout.
“On the move: antelope migrations through the seasonsDocuments in photos, maps, videos, audio and stories how the ancient species has adapted over time to live in the often harsh prairie environment. The StoryMap also explores new issues facing antelopes as a result of human development, including roads, fences and climate change.
Developed in collaboration between The Nature Conservancy and National Wildlife Federation, the interactive story follows the life of a doe as a means of educating the public, taking viewers through an entire year of what animals face during of the different seasons. The end goal is to increase public awareness in order to create momentum to protect prairie landscapes so that species like the American antelope continue to thrive.
“It’s not too late to secure these old trails,” said Kelsey Molloy, ecologist at Nature Conservancy. “With the cooperation of landowners, scientists, agencies and conservation organizations, a future for these beautiful animals can be secured.”
Momentum for American antelope conservation comes as researchers gain more information from GPS technology how far animals travel each year, as well as when, where and how.
“If we can grasp the vast scope of the journey of antelopes through the seasons – and the many challenges they face – then we can adapt and move forward towards a holistic approach and a promising frontier in wildlife conservation,” said said Andrew Jakes, wildlife biologist for the National Wildlife Federation.
Jakes was involved in a six-year antelope study which has roamed from Montana to Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada, as well as non-migratory antelopes.
The collars showed an antelope walking on the ice of the Fort Peck reservoir, while another was documented traveling down Highway 2 for six hours during a blizzard as the temperature dipped below freezing.
The doe that stars in “On the Move” is indicative of the hardships a 110-pound animal goes through to survive in a rugged and harsh environment, Jakes said.
Antelopes are often referred to as antelopes, but are not related to true antelopes like those found in Africa. Instead, they are a distinct species unique to North America. Fossil evidence places the species in the landscape around 17 million years ago, with the animals diversifying into 12 different species.
Modern antelopes have been around for at least 10,000 years, based on fossils recovered from the La Brea tar pits in California. At the time, the animal shared its landscape with the American cheetah, a cougar-like beast with longer legs. Scientists speculate that overtaking predators like the now extinct cheetah could be the reason why antelopes are so fast.
Known for reaching speeds of 60 mph, American antelopes are the fastest land animal in North America and one of the few animals to survive the last ice age. Their keen eyesight helps them spot predators up to four miles away, while a large windpipe and heart keep them outrun most attackers.
Before Euro-Americans moved west, populations of American antelopes were estimated at 40 million, possibly outnumbering bison. By the early 1900s, however, market hunting and settlers had reduced the population to less than 20,000.
Despite the pressure exerted on the antelopes, they were able to hold out. Recent studies have documented them as having the second longest land migration route in the continental United States.
Molloy said she hopes the story of the American antelope will help draw attention to the importance of the grasslands as an ecosystem.
âWe weren’t always good at telling the story of the prairies,â she said. “Antelopes seem like a way to tell this story because they need a whole landscape.”
According to the World Wildlife Fund, about 2.6 million acres of unspoiled grassland – an area larger than Yellowstone National Park – were plowed in 2019 to plant crops, an increase of 500,000 acres from 2018. .
“When you see images of devastating deforestation, it elicits an emotional response and an immediate connection to the climate impacts of that destruction,” Martha Kauffman, vice president of the Northern Great Plains program at WWF, said in a press release. âBut in every year over the past decade, we have seen the grasslands of the Great Plains replaced with cultivated land at rates comparable to the clearing of the Brazilian Amazon. It is time that we also sound the alarm bells on grassland conversion and take immediate action to preserve the natural benefits and climate-fighting solutions that this region offers.
The story of the media card took about a year to produce with the help of three biologists, a photographer, three media designers and a contractor to put it all together. So far, “On the Move” has generated around 2,500 views.
âI sent it to my dad,â Molloy said, as it helped tell the story of what she’s doing. âOften what I do seems a bit more abstract. “
She also shared it with friends, noting that videos of pronghorns swimming in rivers and crawling under fences have the ability to present animal history in a way that more people can relate to rather than to just read.
Molloy hopes the information will be widely shared, especially with lawmakers to educate them on the importance of keeping the grassland ecosystem intact.
Jakes said âOn the Moveâ is also interactive. Under the Conservation tab, visitors can learn how to make the fences suitable for antelopes (they crawl under the fences rather than jumping them like deer). Citizen scientists can download the app WildlifeXing to help document flyways.
“On the Move” reinforces the fact that agencies, organizations and landowners need to work together, Jakes added.
âWe see antelopes as characters that show a landscape approach to connectivity,â he said. “Humans are a huge part of the solution to keeping this system intact.”