Just south of Grand Teton National Park, the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming is home to one of the largest elk herds in the world. This winter however, a small group of pronghorns will be joining the more than 8,000 elk in the sanctuary. According to the Associated Press, the pronghorn entered the refuge in an attempt to find a better wintering ground than their usual home near Jackson Hole, where 400 pronghorn usually stay during the summer. In winter months, most of these animals move south to the Upper Green River Basin. This year, 50 pronghorn remained.
While the rest of the herd left before the first heavy snows, the group remaining in the refuge now must contend with an unfamiliar landscape during winter. Wildlife officials are keeping an eye on the small herd, although none of the animals wear a radio collar. So far no deaths have been recorded.
“With the mild [winter] stretch, the animals were getting more than enough feed,” refuge biologist Eric Cole told The Jackson Hole News and Guide. “There are some bare, snow-free patches in that area, and that’s probably why they’re foraging there.”
But pronghorn are not built for winter and are usually too lean to survive long stretches of poor forage. Unlike elk, the animals also find themselves hindered by even moderate snow. According to records held by Grand Teton National Park, a group of 88 pronghorn similarly stayed behind in the winter of 1992-93. Because of an especially rough winter, only two of those animals survived.
Feed lines have been set out for the refuge’s elk, and pronghorn are expected to chow down on pellets whenever they can. Although refuge managers are hoping for the best, they will not intervene if the pronghorn show signs of struggle.
“I haven’t documented any mortalities, and I’m certainly on the lookout for them,” Cole said.