'Pronghorn Passage' at Buffalo Bill Center of the West Tells of Pronghorn Migration and Conservation Measures to Protect It

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Every year, about three hundred pronghorn antelope travel from summer range in Grand Teton National Park to winter range in Wyoming’s Green River Basin--a journey that is the longest overland mammal migration in the continental United States. Pronghorn Passage, a special exhibition opening December 1 at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, tells the story of the migration, its perils for the animals, and recent steps taken to protect it in ways compatible with encroaching development.

Pronghorn negotiate a barbed wire fence. Joe Riis photo.

Pronghorn negotiate a barbed wire fence. Joe Riis photo.

The photography in 'Pronghorn Passage; is spectacular, but the story of this epic migration is even more exciting and inspiring.

The core of "Pronghorn Passage" is the large-format photography of Joe Riis, a National Geographic Young Explorer who has documented—on foot—the pronghorn’s approximately 150-mile annual migration. Riis, a biologist and wildlife photographer, was recently awarded, along with Dr. Arthur Middleton, the inaugural Camp Monaco Prize to fund a project studying elk migration.

Using remote cameras to capture many of the images, Riis set out to spread awareness of the importance of the migration as well as the obstacles the pronghorn face during their journey. Dr. Charles Preston, senior curator at the Center of the West and founding curator of its Draper Natural History Museum, says, “The photography in 'Pronghorn Passage' is spectacular, but the story of this epic migration is even more exciting and inspiring.”

Collaborating with Riis on the project to help tell that story is Emilene Ostlind, a recent recipient of the Knight-Risser Prize for Environmental Journalism for her reporting on the pronghorn migration. The award-winning article from High Country News, “Perilous Passages,” adds her direct and personal observations to the scientific story of the migration, and is incorporated into the exhibition at the Center of the West.

The awareness raised by Riis and Ostlind’s work, as well as that of others who have called attention to the subject, has given rise to creative methods to protect the migration corridor, threatened in recent years by land subdivision and oil and gas development. The innovative approach includes methods compatible with development, including the construction of highway overpasses, underpasses, and wildlife-friendly fences with a smooth bottom strand under which antelope can more safely crawl.

As Preston notes, “Wildlife is an important part of our western heritage, and as we continue to change our world, we create new challenges for wildlife. 'Pronghorn Passage,'” he adds, “shows that we also have the ability to find solutions to help wildlife overcome some of those challenges.”

The exhibition has previously appeared in other venues, including the University of Wyoming Berry Center for Conservation Biodiversity in Laramie, the Wildlife Experience in Colorado, and the Banff Center in Alberta, Canada. At the Center of the West, it has been expanded to include sculpture by T.D. Kelsey, a large wall map showing the migration route, updated and expanded information, and an example of the safety fencing. Video programs covering the project also augment the exhibition. These include features from National Geographic’s “Wild Chronicles” program, High Country News, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

For more information on this and other special exhibitions at the Center of the West, as well as exhibitions and objects from the Center’s collections that travel to distant venues, visit the Center's Web site and click on “Exhibitions” and “Beyond Our Walls.”

Since 1917, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming has been committed to the greatness and growth of the American West, keeping western experiences alive. The Center, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, weaves the varied threads of the western experience—history and myth, art and Native culture, firearms, and the nature and science of Yellowstone—into the rich panorama that is the American West. The Center of the West has been honored with numerous awards, including the prestigious 2012 National Tour Association’s Award for “favorite museum for groups,” the 2013 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence, and, most recently, one of the “Top 10 Must See Western Museums” by True West magazine.

Through November 30, the Center is open daily 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. On December 1, hours change to 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Thursday – Sunday; closed Monday – Wednesday. For additional information, visit centerofthewest.org or visit the Center’s page on Facebook.

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Nancy McClure

Dr. Charles R. Preston
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