The allure of the waterhole

There’s always a sense of anticipation when we approach a waterhole in any of South Africa’s wild places, and especially so in the vast expanses of the Kruger National Park. Being literal fountains of life, the Kruger’s waterholes attract streams of wildlife to quench their thirst as the dry season drags on, causing the many ephemeral pans that followed the rains to disappear and forcing the animals to congregate around the shrinking pools in the streams and rivers.

Sitting idly waiting by a waterhole, even if it appears deserted at first, is often handsomely rewarded with the most memorable wildlife encounters, as anything from fish to elephants may make an appearance in the grand show.

But as with so much in life there’s also two sides to the story of the waterhole. It isn’t only life-sustaining; sometimes it’s a death-trap as predators know that a waterhole is a like a magnet to their prey…

Given so much danger around, this Green-winged Pytilia drinking from a leaking hosepipe at Babalala Picnic Spot instead of taking his chances at the nearby waterhole is probably very clever!

Green-winged Pytilia

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42 thoughts on “The allure of the waterhole

  1. naturebackin

    Your photos convey that infectious sense of excitement one often sees at the waterholes. Very sad about the poor old buffalo. And where do the hippos go when the river pools dry up in the winter, or do some parts of the river retain pools all year round?

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Thanks very much, Carol!

      Indeed, in a normal year there will be pools all along the course of the seasonal rivers, and the major perennial rivers maintain a flow throughout, so usually there’s still place for the hippo herds to retreat to with only the subordinate bulls having to make do with what little they can find that’s not being controlled by a dominant one. In the terrible drought a few years ago though it was sad to find pods of very skinny hippos sleeping in the shade of trees and shrubs mind-boggling distances away from anything resembling a pan, dam, stream or river as they moved to find grazing and water.

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        1. de Wets Wild Post author

          We’re really hoping for that too – we’re planning on camping in central Kruger for a month in December-January and if there isn’t the occasional shower to cool things down the shop at Satara may well run out of ice creams! πŸ˜€

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            1. de Wets Wild Post author

              We love summer in the bush – just the impala lambs alone make it worth the while! We’re really looking forward to it and I am personally so grateful to the Department of Education for closing the schools so early in December this year! πŸ˜€

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              1. naturebackin

                Yes summer has huge pluses – including the adorable impala babies. For many years we could only get leave in the summer, so most of our holidays in the bush were taken in the heat of the summer. It is lovely to have the freedom of not being cold πŸ™‚ But there were a few times when 40 degree plus heat was a bit much even for me.
                So nice for the Dept of Education to be so considerate πŸ™‚

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Thanks, John – he’ll be so happy to hear you say that. Yes, it is such a pleasure to share our hobby and love for South Africa’s wild places. I usually say that I don’t know yet whether God made Joubert for us or made Marilize and me for Joubert, but it is a perfect fit!

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      It really all depends on which waterhole you are visiting, Alanna; the authorities have built hides at a few waterholes, at others you are able to park your vehicle almost at the water’s edge, but at most of them the parking area is about 50 to 100m distant from the water.

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  2. Joanne Sisco

    I’ve often wondered how animals know where to find the water holes. I suspect they can smell or otherwise sense water so they aren’t wandering aimlessly in search of water.

    I also find it interesting that there appears to be a pecking order in the use of the water. Each waits their turn. When a herd of elephants show up, it’s time to move on πŸ™‚ A mud bath wouldn’t be top of mind for me after finding a water hole!

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      A lot of how they find water is probably reliant on their senses and instinct, Joanne, but recollection from memory also play an important role – we’ve seen elephants rushing to waterholes for instance only to find it dry upon arrival.
      And yes indeed, elephants and buffaloes dominate everything else at a waterhole – even hippos and rhinos will make way for them. Generally they all drink first and then the playing starts – I suppose they’re clever enough to know that churning up the mud gives their drink an unpalatable flavour. There is little regard though for those species waiting in the wings for their turn…

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      And if we were taking about elephants specifically, Robert, you would be 100% on the mark! It is amazing to see the different herds arrive, greet, mingle and then go in their own direction again after drinking and bathing!

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  3. Tranature - quiet moments in nature

    Amazing captures Dries, it makes me wonder how far some of the animals have to travel to find some water πŸ™‚

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Thanks very much, Anne.
      I must admit that buffalo stuck in the mud had my heart torn in two; on the one hand it was terrible to see a life coming to an end in such a drawn-out fashion, and on the other I was jealous that pretty soon the predators would find it and we wouldn’t be there to witness it happening…

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  4. loisajay

    Joubert–you have captured so many of my favorites: the baby elephant, the baby hippo (so tiny!), the beautiful reflections, the elephants kicking up the dust–so wonderful! Great images, all of them.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Thank you, Ann-Christine! We’re always proud to hear of positive impressions of the continent we love, and I hope Persson’s exhibition brings that positive message to many more people.

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