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The Bloubok: Levaillant’s unicorn

Bloubok Portrait

About three weeks to go before I set off to try to solve a few more Levaillant puzzles. The first is the mystery of Levaillant’s Unicorn — the Bloubok or Hippotgragus leucophaeus which is in the Natural History Museum in Paris (MNHN). When he saw it in the Soetmelksvlei near Riviersonderend, he at first thought it was a white horse. Then he saw it had horns.

My argument is that the Bloubok in Paris is actually Levaillant’s and not from Delegorgue as the plaque on the exhibit suggests or from Holland as Mohr and Rookmaaker have argued. The exciting thing is that the Museum curators have agreed to let me have a closer look at the exhibit and take better photos than one can find online. So, watch for a report on the 25th September, a Tuesday when the Hall of Extinct Creatures is closed to the public and I may get a privileged look at the Bloubok. I will also be trying to find out from the museum’s records how the Delegorgue attribution was made.

A second puzzle is the Vicomte Querhoent. He was one of Buffon’s correspondents and wrote the first description of the Secretarybird hunting, but very little is known about his visit to the Cape in about 1774. A third, exploratory part of the trip will be to look at the Verreaux brothers to explore their links to Levaillant. I also look forward to discussing Levaillant and his anthropological legacy with Jean Jamin and Francois-Xavier Fauvelle-Aymar who have both been very helpful with my research.

On the Dutch leg of the research trip, I want to visit the Leiden Bloubok and also check on their records to see what animals the French removed from William V’s menagerie and animal collection. I also want to look again at Levaillant’s annotations of Gordon’s bird illustrations and in particular at the annotations that Gordon erased after Levaillant wrote them.

Of course, I hope that the research trip will also leave time for pains au chocolat, to ‘flaner’ on the boulevards, and enjoy some time with family and friends.

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