Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Unwritten Pecking Order At Wildlife Waterholes

Zebra and Giraffe observe a pecking order at the waterhole in Ngutuni Sanctuary Tsavo Kenya

There is an unwritten law of nature when it comes to who gets special preferences at the waterholes. During the wet seasons, animals tolerate one another and there is some laxity in the system. This is because waterholes are typically full to the brim and there are also plenty of rain puddles scattered across the national parks for wildlife to drink from. When the dry period comes around however, water becomes a sacred resource and those lax privileges once enjoyed by many are now clamped down. This is when the unwritten pecking order of the savanna comes into effect, changing the entire animal social system at the now precious waterholes. 

Each species of animal has its own unique place in this pecking system. As a 'general rule' the smallest makes way for the biggest, so a herd of Impala would make way for a dazzle of Zebras, up until a herd of Buffalo come marching in, who are then in turn all bulldozed to one small side of the waterhole edge by a parade of giant Elephants. Once the Elephant's have had their fill and move out, that's when all the other animals slowly return back to the water and continue drinking. 

The Buffalo move away from the waterhole when the Elephants approached

Investigating this system further however, i have noticed that the 'general rule' also has a set of by laws that can override the hierarchical pecking order! An animals right to drink can be further determined by; their numbers, alliances, threats and also stubbornness. Using the above photograph as an example, the Giraffe is much taller, bigger and heavier than the Zebra, but their sheer numbers keep the pair of Giraffe at bay in the back of the line. Similarly a herd of Impala will comfortably share their drinking space with a troop of Baboons due to their security alliances, while a large herd of Buffalo can stubbornly keep out one or two elephants.  

This unwritten pecking order at waterholes is truly a fascinating experience to watch and im always keen in following all the new developments.

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