The Bluebuck (public domain).


Bluebuck; also known as Hippotragus leucophaeus


Plains of South Africa

Historical Epoch:

Late Pleistocene-Modern (500,000-200 years ago)

Size and Weight:

Up to 10 feet long and 300-400 pounds



Distinguishing Characteristics:

Long ears; thick neck; bluish fur; large horns on males

About the Bluebuck

European settlers have been blamed for countless species extinctions the world over, but in the case of the Bluebuck, the impact of western settlers may be oversold: the fact is that this large, muscular, donkey-eared antelope was well on its way to oblivion well before the first westerners arrived in South Africa in the 17th century. By then, it seems, climate change had already restricted the Bluebuck to a limited swatch of territory; up until about 10,000 years ago, shortly after the last Ice Age, this megafauna mammal was widely dispersed across the expanse of South Africa, but it gradually became restricted to about 1,000 square miles of grassland. The last confirmed Bluebuck sighting (and killing) occurred in Cape Province in 1800, and this majestic game animal hasn't been seen since. (See a slideshow of 10 Recently Extinct Game Animals)

What set the Bluebuck on its slow, inexorable course toward extinction? According to the fossil evidence, this antelope prospered for the first few thousand years after the last Ice Age, then suffered a sudden decline in its population starting about 3,000 years ago (which was probably caused by the disappearance of its accustomed tasty grasses by less-edible forests and bushlands, as the climate warmed). The next deleterious event was the domestication of livestock by the original human settlers of South Africa, around 400 B.C., when overgrazing by sheep caused many Bluebuck individuals to starve. The Bluebuck may also have been targeted for its meat and pelt by these same indigenous humans, some of whom (ironically) worshiped these mammals as near-deities.

The relative scarcity of the Bluebuck may help explain the confused impressions of the first European colonizers, many of whom were passing on hearsay or folk tales rather than witnessing this ungulate for themselves. To begin with, the fur of the Bluebuck wasn't technically blue; most likely, observers were fooled by its dark hide covered by thinning black hair, or it may have been its intermingled black and yellow fur that gave the Bluebuck its characteristic tint (not that these settlers really cared much about the Bluebuck's color, since they were busy hunting herds relentlessly to clear land for pasture). Oddly enough, considering their meticulous treatment of other soon-to-be-extinct species, these settlers managed to preserve only four complete Bluebuck specimens, which are now on display in various museums in Europe.

But enough about its extinction; what was the Bluebuck actually like? As with many antelopes, the males were bigger than the females, weighing upwards of 350 pounds and equipped with impressive, backward-curving horns that were used to compete for favor during mating season. In its overall appearance and behavior, the Blueback (Hippotragus leucophaeus) was very similar to two extant antelopes that still roam the coast of southern Africa, the Roan Antelope (H. equinus) and the Sable Antelope (H. niger). In fact, the Bluebuck was once considered a subspecies of the Roan, and was only later accorded full species status.

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Your Citation
Strauss, Bob. "Bluebuck." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, Strauss, Bob. (2020, August 25). Bluebuck. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "Bluebuck." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).