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Ingwelala’s Conservation Intern, Paige Ezzey, researched and shares the following facts on artificial water points.

Waterholes play a vital role in regulating animalbehaviourand they influence the functioning of ecosystems. Here are some of the ecological effects that waterholes may have on the biotic factors around them:

  • Waterholes are often the sites of animal conflict, both between different species, as well as conflict within a species.
  • The number and location of waterholes, to a small degree, affect animal populations. This may explain why there are such high elephant, warthog and impala numbers on Ingwelala.
  • Waterholes affect the distribution of animals, for species such as impala, warthog, elephant and waterbuck, where there is water, these species will occur.
  • As a result of the crowding of animals around a waterhole, particularly in the dry season, there is a great contribution to injury frequencies in animals. When the waterhole is made of concrete, as in a reservoir, animals like giraffe are vulnerable to slipping and breaking their legs when they bend down to drink.
  • Waterholes are central points for animals in the dry season, and this attracts more predators.
  • Waterholes are sites for the spread of diseases such as anthrax, which is spread by animals that contaminate the soil and water. Such an example is vultures, which become infected with anthrax after consuming an infected carcass. When these birds congregate at water holes, their faeces pass on the anthrax spores into the soil and water. Many diseases thrive in moist conditions, and many are spread in the faeces of animals that congregate at waterholes. With more hosts, the pathogens have a chance to spread.
  • When the chemistry of the water at a waterhole is unbalanced, it can cause great health problems for the animals that drink the water. For example, a high concentration of salt in water has been known to lead to kidney damage in animals.  “There was also the case of a high concentration of fluorine in the water in the Rust de Winter area north of Pretoria. This high concentration leads to the fractured legs of the African savannah buffalo species”.
  •  Veld pans play a key role in regulating the body temperature of animals. For example, have you ever witnessed warthogs wallowing in the mud at elephant pan hide, or elephants spraying themselves with water? These animals are simply cooling themselves off in the heat of the day. In the case of elephants, this is very important, because they are big animals and over heat quickly in hot conditions.
  • The incorrect placement of waterholes can result in either under or over utilization of the veld. This may lead to problems such as soil erosion and bush encroachment.  If you are out one day, parked at any of the dams on the reserve, you will notice how much the grass in the vicinity of the water has been overgrazed to the point where there is mostly bare soil. When waterholes are placed too close together and in a uniform pattern, it means that the entire area is being subject to overgrazing, with no areas of grass having a chance to recover. When the herbaceous layer is weakened, it allows woody seedlings to take over and outcompete the grass species. This leads to bush encroachment, which degrades the veld, as it lowers the carrying capacity of the area, as a large majority of animals in the lowveld are grazers. 

Works Cited: Bothma, D. T. (2010). Game Ranch Management . Pretoria: Struik Punlishers. 


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