Bluebuck (Hippotragus leucophaeus)

Bluebuck, mounted museum specimen
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Bluebuck fact file

Bluebuck description

GenusHippotragus (1)

The first African antelope to be hunted to extinction by European settlers, the mammals, or blaubok, once inhabited the grasslands of South Africa (1). Slightly smaller than its living relatives the roan antelope (Hippotragus equinus) and the sable antelope (Hippotragus niger) (5), the bluebuck’s most striking feature was the glossy blue appearance of its hide, for which it receives its common name (4) (6). This blue colouration was thought by some to be caused by the mix of black and yellow hairs (2), although unfortunately, museum specimens of the bluebuck do not show this feature (2).

The mammals had a relatively small mane; long, white, banded legs; and a strong neck supporting large, curved and profoundly ringed horns. The horns bore 20 to 35 rings and measured up to 60 centimetres in length (4), with the female’s horns being smaller and thinner. The face was brown with contrasting patches of white in front of the eyes (4), and both male and female bluebucks were very similar in colouration until reaching sexual maturity, when the males took on a lighter shade (7).

Also known as
Blue buck.
Average male length: 2.5 – 3.0 m (2)
Average female length: 2.3 – 2.8 m (3)
Shoulder height: 1 – 1.2 m (2)
Horn length: 0.5 – 0.6 m (4)
160 kg (2)

Bluebuck biology

The bluebuck moved around in small- to medium-sized herds of up to 20 individuals (4). The herds consisted of females and their young, led by a single dominant male that excluded other males from the herd (3) (7). On encountering another dominant male an extremely violent brawl would ensue, with a clash of the enormous horns and intense head-butting (3).

The bluebuck was a specialised grazer that grazed mainly on perennial tuft grasses (7) (9), such as red grass or spear grass. Mating could occur all year round, although there was a peak in summer (3). The female gave birth to a single calf, weighing around 12 kilograms, after a gestation period of nine months. Many calves were attacked by lions, leopards, spotted hyenas and African wild dogs and killed within months of birth. Upon reaching maturity, males were excluded from the herd by the dominant male bull (7), and were forced to live in bachelor herds with other evicted males until becoming a dominant male in another herd. Life expectancy in the wild was around 18 years (3).


Bluebuck range

The bluebuck is thought to have occurred primarily within the southern coastal plains of South Africa (1), ranging as far north as the Free State Province (8).


Bluebuck habitat

The bluebuck inhabited grassland areas, close to water sources (5) (7).


Bluebuck status

Classified as Extinct (EX) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Extinct


Bluebuck threats

The bluebuck was last recorded in the 18th century (5), although a population was suggested to persist until 1853 in the Free State Province (8). Habitat degradation, as a result of cultivation and overgrazing of grassland (5), along with disease and hunting, are reasons cited for this species’ demise (1) (9)


Bluebuck conservation

This antelope is now classified as extinct (1) and therefore conservation measures are not required for this species.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

To learn about wildlife conservation in South Africa see:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

This species information was authored as part of the Arkive and Universities Scheme.


The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
A plant that normally lives for more than two seasons. After an initial period, the plant produces flowers once a year.


  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2010)
  2. Mohr, E. (1967) Der Blaubock, Hippotragus leucophaeus, Pallas 1766. Eine Dokumentation. Verlag Paul Parey, Hamburg.
  3. Kingdon, J. (1997) The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Academic Press Limited, London.
  4. Rookmaaker, L.C. (1992) Additions and revisions to the list of specimens of the extinct blue antelope (Hippotragus leucophaeus). Annals of the South African Musuem, 102(3): 131-141.
  5. Robinson, T.J., Bastos, A.D., Halanych, K.M. and Herzig, B. (1996) Mitochondrial DNA sequence relationships of the extinct blue antelope. Naturwissenschaften, 83: 178-182.
  6. Loubser, J., Brink, J. and Laurens, G. (1990). Paintings of the extinct blue antelope, Hippotragus leucophaeus, in the Eastern Orange Free State. The South African Archaeological Bulletin, 45(152): 106-111.
  7. Mills, G. and Hes, L. (1997) The Complete Book of Southern African Mammals. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  8. Kerley, G.I.H., Sims-Castley, R., Boshoff, A.F. and Cowling, R.M. (2009) Extinction of the blue antelope Hippotragus leucophaeus: modelling predicts non-viable global population size as the primary driver. Biodiversity and Conservation, 18: 3235-3242.
  9. Skinner, J.D. and Chimimba, C.T. (2005) The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion. Cambridge University Press, Cape Town.

Image credit

Bluebuck, mounted museum specimen  
Bluebuck, mounted museum specimen

© Frank W. Lane /

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