Hippotragus leucophaeusblue buck

Geographic Range

Fossil and historical evidence documents that bluebucks once had broad distribution, spanning an area at least 4300 square kilometers along the southern coast of Africa. This region included the southern and western coastal plains of southern Africa’s Cape Floristic Region (CFR) and extended beyond the CFR into the highlands of Lesotho. (Faith and Thompson, 2013)


Bluebucks are thought to have been grazers, as suggested by dental similarities to their grazing congeners: roan and sable antelope, and accounts of bluebucks grazing in sheep pastures. Consistent with this reconstructed diet, bluebucks probably favored grassy habitats. This can be inferred from observations that bluebucks tended to be most numerous in fossil assemblages dominated by other grassland species. Bluebucks appear to have preferred somewhat more open habitats than roan antelope, with which it apparently overlapped frequently. (Faith and Thompson, 2013; Klein, 1974)

Physical Description

Bluebucks were rather large, bluish-grey antelope with horns that were more or less intermediate size between those of roan and sable antelope. These horns were black and rather strongly ringed. To date, there are only five mounted hides of bluebucks located in museums; they can be found in Leiden, Amsterdam, Paris, France, Stockholm, Sweden, Uppsala, Sweden, and Vienna, Austria. One skull is located in the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, Scotland. One frontlet (a frontal bone or brow band) with attached horns is preserved in the British Museum of Natural History in London, United Kingdom. Museum collections have yielded important physical data about bluebucks. Height at the withers (the highest part of the back at the base of the neck) was 119 cm and length of the horns to the curve was 56.5 cm. Compared to data from other preserved specimens it is possible that this is the largest known example of this extinct species. Females are thought to have been slightly smaller than the males, similar to roan and sable antelopes. There are no photographs, and most of the available sketches and descriptions are probably inaccurate in one respect or another. Peter Kolb, who published the first paper about bluebucks, drew these animals with a beard because at the time they were thought to be related to goats. Reviews of other drawings and descriptions pertaining to bluebucks indicate that scientists have frequently contradicted each other, as well as differing from mounted specimens found in European museums. However, much can be surmised about bluebucks from examination of their closest living relatives, roan and sable antelopes. (Klein, 1974; Van Bruggen, 1959)


Little to no scientific data has been gathered on bluebuck mating systems; however, there have been data collected for roan and sable antelope, two closely related species. Bluebucks may have been polygynous, as both roan and sable antelopes exhibit polygyny. Roan and sable antelope have different estrus cycles, which makes it difficult to infer anything about cycles in bluebucks. Roan antelope do not typically reproduce seasonally, whereas sable antelope have only one breeding season each year. (Carpenter, 2010)

The seasonality of rainfall and forage across the prehistoric range of bluebucks raises the possibility of pronounced breeding seasonality in this species, meaning they may have mated and calved only during only certain times of the year. The calving schedule of roan and sable antelope varies over their geographical range, with the southernmost populations characterized by more pronounced seasonality. In southern Africa, most sable antelope are born between January and March, coinciding with summer rains and peak forage availability. Roan antelope are generally considered to be seasonal (i.e., not seasonal) breeders, although they exhibit similar summer peaks in some parts of South Africa. (Faith and Thompson, 2013)

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding intervals in bluebucks are unknown.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding seasonality in bluebucks is unknown, but may have been geographically variable.

Female bluebucks are said to have neglected their young, but this reputation could result from leaving offspring alone in a safe area and only returning to feed them. This is common behavior for other species in the genus Hippotragus. Bluebucks are thought to be altricial (young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state), as both roan and sable offspring are altricial. (Faith and Thompson, 2013)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


There have been no observations of bluebuck lifespan; however, it has been estimated at around be 18 years (216 months) based on the evaluation of dental eruption and tooth wear. (Klein and Cruz-Uribe, 1984)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    18 (high) years


Both roan and sable antelope are gregarious, with roan antelope typically associating in small herds of 5 to 12 individuals and sable antelope in herds of 10 to 30. Historical records confirm the same gregarious behavior in bluebucks. Female bluebucks were reported to exhibit behavior similar to that of roan and sable antelope, leaving young alone and only returning to feed them. In terms of social interactions, one study of roan antelope identified sex and age as the most consistent factors explaining interaction and associations. Adult roan antelope males are central in social networks. Roan antelope herds are made up of a core set of adults, one adult male and around 5 adult females, with varying numbers and sexes of juveniles. Bluebucks were likely to be nomadic, as are their close relatives. (Carpenter, 2010; Faith and Thompson, 2013)

Home Range

Nothing is known about home range size in bluebucks.

Communication and Perception

Little information exists on communication and perception in bluebucks. Their close relatives, roan and sable antelopes, have also received little study as far as communication or perception, but both are known to have tactile (use of touch) and chemical (smell) perception channels, in addition to visual and acoustic senses. (Carpenter, 2010)

Food Habits

Close relatives of bluebucks, roan and sable antelopes, are specialized eaters. This in part has led to hypothesis that the decline in bluebuck numbers over the last 30,000 years may reflect a similar a level of specialization, and in particular, sensitivity to competition from introduced domestic stock in the last 2,000 years. A study was conducted in Dinder National Park, Sudan on roan antelope eating habits, indicated that they are mixed feeders but prefer grassy and woody plants. Some specific example of forage preferred by roan antelope include: Eragrostis spectabilis, Pennisetum pedicellatum, Cassia mimosoides, and Indigofera spectabilis. The diet of bluebucks is thought to have been very similar to roan antelope. (Awad, 1985; Kerley, et al., 2009)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems


In addition to natural predators, the added impact of over-hunting by Europeans may have caused bluebuck population reduction. Within the 150 years of European arrival and hunting with firearms this species went extinct. Anti-predation adaptations and behaviors in bluebucks are not known but, like their relatives, they probably relied on their herding behavior and ability to outrun predators. (Kerley, et al., 2009)

Ecosystem Roles

Because they are extinct, bluebucks no longer have any ecosystem importance. At one time they may have been an important prey for larger predators and have impacted vegetation in the grasslands where they grazed.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There is no economic importance for humans because bluebucks are extinct.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There is no economic importance for humans because bluebucks are extinct.

Conservation Status

Bluebucks were the first large mammal to become extinct in Africa during historic times. The last individual was shot around 1800, marking the first African antelope species to be hunted to extinction by European settlers. Competition for grazing especially with domestic sheep also negatively impacted bluebuck populations, driving them towards extinction. (Klein, 1974)


Nathan Stack (author), University of Wyoming, Hayley Lanier (editor), University of Wyoming - Casper, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.


having more than one female as a mate at one time

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


offspring are all produced in a single group (litter, clutch, etc.), after which the parent usually dies. Semelparous organisms often only live through a single season/year (or other periodic change in conditions) but may live for many seasons. In both cases reproduction occurs as a single investment of energy in offspring, with no future chance for investment in reproduction.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

sexual ornamentation

one of the sexes (usually males) has special physical structures used in courting the other sex or fighting the same sex. For example: antlers, elongated tails, special spurs.


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


Awad, N. 1985. Food Habits of Giraffee, Roan Antelope, Oribi and Camel in Dinder National Park, Sudan. Colorado State University: UMI Dissertations Publishing.

Broom, R. 1949. The extinct Blue Buck of South Africa. Nature, 164: 1097-1098.

Carpenter, L. 2010. Utilizing Social Networks Analysis In The Characterization of African Ungulate Social Structure. University of Maryland: UMI Dissertations Publishing.

Faith, T., J. Thompson. 2013. Fossil evidence for seasonal calving and migration of extinct blue antelope (Hippotragus leucophaeus) in southern Africa. Journal of Biogeography, 40: 2108-2118.

Kerley, G., R. Sims-castley, A. Boshoff, R. Cowling. 2009. Extinction of the blue antelope Hippotragus leucophaeus: modeling predicts non-viable global population size as the primary driver.. Biodiversity & Conservation, 18: 3235-3242.

Klein, R. 1974. On The Taxonomic Status, Distribution and Ecology of the Blue Antelope, Hippotragus leucophaeus (Pallas, 1766). Annals, 65: 99-116.

Klein, R., K. Cruz-Uribe. 1984. The Analysis of Animal Bones from Archeological Sites. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mastin, N. 2000. The African antelope. PSA Journal, 66: 27-28.

Van Bruggen, A. 1959. Illustrated Notes on some Extinct South African Ungulates. South African Journal of Science, August 1959: 197 - 200.