Starting points for this project

The Blue Antelope was the first large mammal to be exterminated in South Africa after the arrival of Europeans. A trade in skins and specimens flowed to Europe through Amsterdam. This is why the scarce Blue Antelope remains are in some of the oldest natural history collections in Europe. Closer to where they last lived, smaller fragments have been found in archaeological sites in the Cape. These dispersed and silent remains yield natural and cultural histories which become sharply focussed by our current era of human-made extinction.

The Blue Antelope's close relatives - roan and sable antelopes - are now endangered through habitat loss, climate change, and hunting. Such losses are cultural losses as well as biological. We want to look at Blue Antelopes from different viewpoints.

Our work began by looking at an antler and horn collection stored by the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow - items which have been gathered across continents over two or more centuries. One particular specimen attracted interest. It was thought to be the skull and horn cores of a long-dead grazing antelope. Was it a blue antelope? How can anyone know? What were these animals like? What colour were they? As images and information started to accumulate, the work gathered momentum. Blue Antelopes seem to have been beautiful animals and each remnant has many stories to tell. Whether or not a specimen is verifiably a blue antelope, it has the value of pointing to the entwined lives of animals and humans.

Things like bluebuck remains are beyond realms of ownership and value. But curatorial institutions have the responsibility of stewardship. As white Britons working from an 'ivory tower', the Blue Antelope led us to themes closest to hand - histories of colonial appropriation and the scientific enterprise, old crafts of taxidermy and newer techniques of DNA analysis. Evolutionary and environmental biology describes the sixth wave of extinctions caused by humans. These are our collective 'indigenous knowledges'.

"Blue Antelope" is the name chosen for this website but plenty of other names exist in the European literature. First mentioned in 1719 by a German traveller, Kolb, as "Blaauwbok", it was defined for science by Pallas in 1766 as "Antilope leucophaea". Bluebuck is another English term, while Dutch, Afrikaans and German contribute variations of 'blaubok'; 'blaauwbock'; 'bloubok'. Hippotragus leucophaea is the scientific name now used when precision is required.

What though of the knowledges and vocabularies that predated and coexisted with European settlement in South Africa?

The Blue Antelope Project is the result of an Artist's Residency in the University of Glasgow funded by the Leverhulme Trust. It represents interdisciplinary and collaborative work. Kate Foster (artist) set up this site, wrote the text and collated the images. This could not have been done without the help of Hayden Lorimer (lecturer in Human Geography) and Merle Patchett (PhD student). This work was made possible by Maggie Reilly, curator of the Hunterian Zoology Museum, and the hospitality of the Department of Geographical and Earth Sciences.