Oft-spotted pronghorn in northwestern Minnesota may have ‘broken compass’

Middle River, Minn. — Gregg Knutson had heard for months about sightings of a pronghorn antelope in northwestern Minnesota.

A couple weekends ago, Knutson, refuge biologist at the Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge in Middle River, saw the animal with his own eyes. It was just east of the refuge – and about 300 miles from the nearest pronghorn population.

“It’s a tremendous oddity to have one travel this far east,” he said. “I’ve been saying that it appears to have a broken compass.”

While it’s unclear if there’s one pronghorn, or more than one, there have been fairly regular reports since last fall. Sightings have occurred in places including Crookston, Grygla, Newfolden, and the Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area.

The animal Knutson saw was a doe, and she appeared to be in pretty good health, he said.

To see a pronghorn in Minnesota is especially interesting to Knutson, given that he worked at a refuge west of Bismarck, N.D., prior to coming to Agassiz.

“If we would see an antelope anywhere east of Bismarck, that was something to talk about,” he said.

Knutson suspects the animal is wild, and says he doesn’t know of any captive facilities from which it may have escaped.

It’s hard to know why the animal apparently has ventured so far from its core habitat.

“They’re an animal of open spaces, and they don’t tolerate a lot of fences,” Knutson said. “They also don’t tend to fare well in extreme winter conditions. So for it to be here, and to have apparently made it through the winter, that’s pretty tremendous.”

Likely, the animal has been able to find food in alfalfa or soybean stubble fields, he said.

Officials don’t have any intention of trying to capture the animal.

Knutson has been reluctant to give out the precise location where he spotted the pronghorn. After he received a text message from someone who spotted it east of Agassiz, Knutson and his wife drove to the area.

He saw the animal, and snapped photos from about 250 yards away.

That was as close as he got.

“It’s no doubt having a little bit of trouble getting around,” Knutson said. “So even people with the best intentions of trying to go out and get a peek at it could cause it a lot of (unnecessary) stress.”

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