Klaserie River Sands

Elephants dig for water

Written by: Dr. Gabriella Kiss PhD

South Africa has been suffering from one of the worst droughts in decades, as a result of having had the lowest rainfall since records began in 1904. I visited the Kruger National Park in mid-April 2016 and noticed that long parts of the Sand River were completely dry, while other parts only had very shallow water.

More and more dry riverbeds seemed to be appearing, and the quality of the water in the existing waterholes may well have also changed in the hot weather. However, in spite of the harsh living conditions created by the drought, nature has equipped elephants to be able to find water to survive. Elephants can use one or more methods to do so, depending on the conditions that they find themselves in, and one such method involves digging with their trunks to reach alternative water sources.

An elephant searches for water in the dry Sand riverbed

An elephant searches for water in the dry Sand River

An elephant digs for water

An elephant uses its trunk to dig for water

An elephant uses its trunk to drink from a hole it has dug

Having struck source, an elephant has a welcome drink!

As a result of their large size, elephants have a huge impact on their environments and are considered a keystone species. Their habit of uprooting trees and undergrowth can transform savannah into grasslands, and when they dig for water during times of drought, they create waterholes that can be used by other animals. They can also enlarge waterholes so as to bathe and wallow comfortably in them.

To dig a waterhole, elephants use both their big feet and their long trunk and tusks

To dig a waterhole, elephants use both their big feet and their long trunk and tusks

An elephant’s trunk is actually a long nose used for smelling, breathing, trumpeting, drinking, and also for grabbing things. The trunk alone contains about 100,000 different muscle fascicles and the elephant even has two finger-like features at the tip of its trunk that it can use to grab small items. It can also suck up water both to drink and to spray water on its body, and when underwater, the elephant uses its trunk as a snorkel.

Elephants can go up to four days without water but they can also use their trunks and tusks to dig wells if necessary.

A resourceful elephant finds a new waterhole

A resourceful elephant creates a new waterhole

An elephant drinks from a self-made waterhole in the Satara area of the Kruger National Park

An elephant drinks from a self-made waterhole in the Satara area of the Kruger National Park

Elephants tend to stay near water sources but they can smell water from five kilometres away. These animals drink water by using their long trunks, and an adult elephant can drink about 200 litres of water per day, which can sometimes be drunk during a single visit to a water source. Each ‘trunkful’ of water may amount to between four and eight litres.

Elephants frequently also dig around other water sources so as to find a better quality of water

Elephants frequently also dig around other water sources so as to find a better quality of water



Guest Blogger

In the Guest Blogger profile, you'll see fresh and exciting content from a range of contributors who have submitted their content to us on a once-off or temporary basis, including press releases, campaigns and exciting adventure and travel tales!

Africa Geographic