The Bluebuck, Hippotragus leucophaeus (1766)
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae
Subfmily : Hippotraginae
Genus : Hippotragus
Species : H. leucophaeus
- Late Pleistocene/Recent (Extinct in 1799)
- 3 m long and 160 kg (size)
- South Africa (map)
Most of its activities took place during the day, especially early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
Bluebucks followed the conventional territorial system among the Hippotragini or ‘horse antelopes’: territorial bulls, herds of cows and calves, and bachelor herds which were kept segregated by the territorial bulls.
Bluebuck cows and calves lived in small to medium-sized herds of five to 20 individuals, but herds of 35 to 80 were not unusual. They normally occurred at a low density of about 4/km2. Cows shared a traditional home range, which included the territories of several bulls, and occupied it for up to 30 years. At very low densities in substandard habitats, the cows ranged across larger areas, and were accompanied by the same bull, which in the absence of resistance by territorial neighbours, defended a movable space around his own private harem.
Because they had long, dangerous horns, cows tended to be more aggressive than those antelopes whose females are hornless. Dominance hierarchies based on age and individual prowess were vigorously maintained by both sexes. Maternal herds, composed of animals with the same home range, were closed to outsiders. Herd members kept out of range of each other’s horns, by increasing the individual space between them.
Herd composition changed daily and seasonally; members split into small groups during the rainy season, and concentrated into larger groups on the best available grazing near water during the dry season. The most cohesive groups were maintained by calves of different ages, which clustered around the youngest calf and usually lagged behind the herd.
Bulls were accepted in the natal herd up to the age of 15–18 months, which was unusually long. Until then, their similarity to cows suppressed the aggression of the territorial bulls. Subadult bulls were driven from the herd, and if they did not escape quickly enough, they were killed. They then joined bachelor herds, where they stayed until they reached five or six years of age, when they would be strong enough to defend their own territories.
The adult bull would advertise his presence and high social status by standing or lying alone or away from the herd, at a conspicuous place. The bull stood erect as a sign of high status, and it was self-advertising if it was not directed. When another bull approached his herd, the dominant bull would stand with his neck arched, head high, and ears turned sideways. Unless the intruder showed submission by lowering his head, the bull kept his ears erect, and waved his tail or tucked it between his legs, and a clash of horns and head-butting would take place. Its sound was a blowing snort.
Cultivation of the Cape Colony and hunting with firearms quickly destroyed the last small herds. The bluebuck disappeared before the early natural history cabinets and museums had a chance to obtain a fair number of specimens.