By Stephen Stirling
Three pronghorns are settling into their new environment, shacking up with the zoo's herd of bison in an enclosure designed to mimic the Great Plains region of the United States.A true native American, the pronghorn antelope is the last living species of its respective family, Antilocapridae, and is only found in Canada, the United States and northern Mexico.Pronghorns resemble small deer, averaging slightly over 3 feet in height and 4 feet in length. The Queens Zoo's trio of pronghorns – one male and two females – arrived from zoos in Kansas and North Dakota in June when they were just days old and were bottle-fed by zookeepers three times a day.The fawns grew quickly, and were slowly introduced to their new environment starting in September.Though at first glance they make an unlikely pair , the hulking bison and the far more spry pronghorns share the same land in their natural habitat, the sprawling valleys of Midwestern North America. In Queens, the animals were introduced to one another in a controlled setting and despite the occasional spat between the two groups they now cohabit in peace.Queens Zoo Education Curator Thomas Hurtubise joked that on certain days, the easily irritated bison seem less than thrilled with their new roommates, but overall the pairing has worked well.”They more or less stay away from one another now,” he said. “There's an area [in the enclosure] where the bison can't get at them. They stay in there a lot.”Even if they did not have a safe area, the energetic pronghorns would have no problem escaping a bison. Pronghorns are the second-fastest animal in the world, behind only the cheetah. Pronghorns were threatened with extinction in the early 1900s, when their numbers dwindled to 20,000, but conservation efforts over the course of the 20th century have bolstered the population back to about 500,000.Still, the Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates Queens Zoo, said pronghorn numbers are falling again as fast-spreading development destroys their natural habitats.The pronghorns can be seen at the Queens Zoo, located at 53-51 111th St. in Flushing, 365 days a year. The zoo's winter hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. seven days a week. For more information, call 718-271-1500 or visit their Web site at www.queenszoo.com. Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.