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Saving Mexican Pronghorn from Extinction

On land, only the cheetah is faster than the pronghorn. Mexican pronghorn are facing extinction, but LightHawk is helping with a plan to save these swift animals. image: Joe Riis Photography.

In the arid grasslands of the state of Chihuahua, Mexican pronghorn are in trouble: barely 500 remain. Two doctoral students with Instituto de Ecología are urgently working to try and save one of Mexico’s most endangered species. LightHawk is helping in this effort through a suite of flights to advance knowledge, and build support for a recovery plan.

The Mexican pronghorn (Antilocapra americana mexicana), unlike pronghorn in the United States, are in real danger of disappearing. Biologists Rodrigo Sierra Corona and Eduardo Ponce Guevara have partnered with LightHawk to employ the aerial perspective to find out more about one of the last wild herds in Mexico and slow their decline. 

Herds splinter into smaller groups in the dry season to avoid predators. LightHawk flights helped researchers from Mexico’s Instituto de Ecología find individuals roaming in remote areas which are hard, if not impossible, to access from the ground. image: Eduardo Guevara/INE/LightHawk

“Besides population surveys, little had been done in order to protect and recover this species,” said Rodrigo Sierra Corona of Instituto de Ecología. He took a step towards changing this when he buckled himself into a Cessna 180 next to LightHawk volunteer pilot Wolfgang Meyn.  

LightHawk volunteer pilot Wolfgang Meyn flies his 1955 Cessna 180 to help researchers trying to save the Mexican pronghorn. image: Marijke Unger.

Meyn, a retired German Air Force pilot, flew Corona and Guevara in his chrome and green four-seat airplane over the remote, hard-to-reach valleys and low hills where the pronghorn roam. After four flights in 2015 with Meyn, the duo had a better understanding of where the animals move and what barriers stood in their way.

"We were able to find the pronghorns and discover an amazingly vast ecosystem, with high chances to recover this species," remarked Corona after one flight.  Corona and Guevara are part of a larger effort to design and implement a recovery program to stabilize this last population of pronghorn. “Whitley Fund For Nature and LightHawk are key partners in this efforts,” remarked Corona.

LightHawk enabled Corona and Guevara to survey remote, often roadless expanses of the Chihuahuan desert where Mexican pronghorn roam. image: Rodrigo Corona/INE/LightHawk

Corona and Guevara reached out to ranchers whose properties overlap pronghorn range to enlist their support for the recovery effort. “Our partnership with landowners,” Corona said, “has grown and we are very optimistic about the future results of this program. During 2015, we will modify at least 20 miles of barbed wire to allow the free movement of the animals, and we will build at least 10 new watering points.”

Volunteer pilot Will Worthington flew a different kind of mission in November 2015 with Corona and local ranchers. The flight built support for the recovery plan by showing the landowners the challenges pronghorn face in the landscape. They also saw ways they could aid in the recovery of the endangered population that moves through their property.

Mexican pronghorn, in danger for extinction, spotted during a LightHawk flight over the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. image: Rodrigo Corona/INE/LightHawk

LightHawk continues to leverage its aviation expertise for the Mexican pronghorn project as part of the effort to design and implement a recovery program for the long-term survival of the pronghorn. Planning is underway for a flight in January 2016 to continue to accelerate efforts to save the Mexican pronghorn.

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