Blue buck

Extinct in 1800
  • Blue buck
  • Blue buck

The Blue Antelope of South Africa – The Blue buck

The Blue buck (Hippotragus leucophaeus) is the first large African mammal, which became extinct in historic times. It is related to the Roan Antelope and the Sable Antelope, but slightly smaller in stature than these both species.

Blue buck which was drawn in 19th century

Blue buck which was drawn in 19th century(Click to view larger image).

When the Europeans settled in the Cape Colony in the 17th and 18th centuries, they found the Blue buck on the coastal plains of the southwestern Cape Province. They observed the Blue buck only in grasslands with extensive marshes and open areas with perennial tuft grasses and little hillside scrub, because the Blue buck is a selective grazer of medium to long (50-150cm), perennial tuft grasses, such as high-quality Red grass (Themeda triandra), Spear grass (Heteropogon contortus), Buffalo grass (Panicum spp.) and Love grass (Eragrostis spp.). Unlike most other antelope, it is not particularly attracted to fresh grass, except during the dry season, but like the Roan and the Sable it has to drink daily.

Blue buck in the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien, ST 715

Blue buck in the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien, ST 715
@Naturhistorisches Museum Wien(Click to view larger image).

The Blue buck was already on its way to extinction, when European naturalists and hunters finally discovered it. The German Peter Kolb was the first to write about the existence of a Blue buck in 1719. He describes the Blue buck as a large goat and the picture of a Blue buck drawn later on the base of his memories shows the typical characteristics of a goat, like the long goat’s beard and the goat tail, although he still remembered the tail tuft but draw it at a too high position. However, Kolb’s original drawing was later used for the illustration of a Blue buck by Daniel (1804-08) and copied again with other mistakes like the hornless females by Jardine (1839). Only almost 50 years after Kolb’s description a correct taxonomic description of the Blue buck as an antelope was given by P.S. Pallas in 1767.

Comparison between 6 antelope heads Blue buck is in center of the upper 3 Blue buck drawn by P. Kolb 1719

Comparison between 6 antelope heads Blue buck is in center of the upper 3
(Click to view larger image).

Blue buck drawn by P. Kolb 1719
(Click to view larger image).

European hunters and farmers hunted the Blue buck mainly for its skin. According to the German zoologist Martin Lichtenstein, the last Blue buck in the Cape Province was killed in 1800. However, evidence suggests an isolated remnant population still existed further north in the 19th century because Lieutenant W.J. St. John recorded "Roans" of a bluish grey color in the Free State Province in July 1853. Probably he actually saw the last remnants of a relict population of Blue buck. But in the 1850ies definitely the last Blue buck died in the eastern Free State.

Blue buck skull

Blue buck skull(Click to view larger image).

Cultivation of the Cape Colony and hunting with firearms quickly destroyed the last small Blue buck herds. The Blue buck disappeared before the natural history museums had a chance to obtain a fair number of specimens. Therefore only four mounted specimens remain in the Natural History Museums in Leiden, Paris, Stockholm and Vienna along with some bones and horns in some other collections.
In 1967, exactly 200 years after Pallas’ description of the Blue buck, the German zoologist Erna Mohr studied and compared these existing four mounted Blue bucks and gives an interesting overview about the history of these specimens. Besides she is the first author, who studied and compared in the museums in Amsterdam and Glasgow also the two skulls, which are about 39 cm long, as well as the three pairs of horns in the museums of London, Upsala (Sweden) and Cape Town.

Syrian camel enclosure in LOST ZOO

Blue buck stuffed specimen
(Click to view larger image).

The long, scimitar-shaped horns are 50-61 cm long and heavily ridged, with 20-35 rings up to the tip of the horn. The horns of the Blue buck are more lightly built than those of the Roan and Sable and slightly transversely compressed to the inside. The horns of the females are 10-20% smaller. The Blue buck has a relatively long, strong neck with a very short, underdeveloped mane, long white legs with dark bands on the anterior, and a long tail, up to the hock, with a dark, horse-like whisk. It has a long muzzle and its ears are long, rufous and narrow-pointed.

Blue buck enclosure in LOST ZOO

Blue buck enclosure in LOST ZOO
(Click to view larger image).

Today, we have only the four mounted Blue buck skins in the four European museums. But now this rare South African antelope can be seen for the first time also outside of Europe, namely in our Lost Zoo. The Lost Zoo’s enclosure for the Blue buck is situated on the side of the quagga enclosure and opposite to the largest South African predator of that time, the Cape lion. Like in nature where all these three species share the same habitat, the visitor in our Lost Zoo makes now an excursion to the South African savannah with its typical fauna.

Executive Curator
JURGEN LANGE

Blue Buck, the blue antelope of South Africa

The Blue buck lives on the coastal plains of the southwestern Cape Province. This antelope can be observed only in grasslands with extensive marshes and open areas with perennial tuft grasses and little hillside scrub, because it is a selective grazer of medium to long, perennial tuft grasses.
The Blue buck was already on its way to extinction, when Europeans settled in the Cape Colony in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its range was already small and restricted to such grassland areas.

Height at withers: 102-116 cm

Height at croup: 99-115 cm

Body length: 95-113 cm

Footprint: 88 x 48 cm

Total length: 250-300 cm (buck), 230-280 cm (cow).

Body weight: about 160 kg (adult buck)

Habitat: Southwestern coastal region in grasslands with extensive marshes and open areas with tuft grasses, up to 2.400 m above sea level.

Extinction: Although already rare in the 18th century, the European settlers hunted the Blue buck for its skin and converted its habitat for agricultural land purpose. In 1800, the last Blue buck in the Cape Province was killed.

Animal Exhibition
Blue buck