Suitable land and sufficient water are prerequisites for a game farmer to be successful.

“If a game rancher takes care of his veld, he takes care of the water resources,” says Ken Coetzee of Conservation Management Services in George in the Western Cape province of South Africa.

Ken provides guidelines for ethical, sustainable and ecologically friendly ways to supply water for game in his book, Practical Techniques for Habitat and Wildlife Management.

Zebra are always on the lookout for predators at a drinking hole.(Source: Pixabay)

“Water sources depend on the condition of the veld: the better the veld is taken care of, the more water will be available. Replenishment of groundwater levels starts with the repair and protection of the soil surface.”

He believes overgrazing is one of the most significant causes of overexploitation of groundwater sources. “Overgrazing destroys the protective layer of vegetation on the surface. When the exposed earth is hardened by the hot sun, rainwater cannot penetrate and runs off. Also, when dams are built in natural flow of a stream it robs the ecosystem downstream of surface water, but also of groundwater, because it cannot be replenished, he claims.

Water quality

Impalas prefer to drink at a hole where they can see the surrounding area. (Source: Pixabay)

Game cannot live and multiply without good quality drinking water. Water contains organic and inorganic matter which can provide valuable minerals to game, but high concentrations or imbalances can cause irreparable damage to your game’s health and reproduction, and may even lead to poisoning or death.

Game will not drink bad-tasting water. It is easy to determine what the water tastes like, but it is not always immediately clear what causes the bad taste, and if the water is toxic, the health of the game will deteriorate over time.

Water of poor quality will influence game species in different ways. It will influence their feeding, which in turn will influence their general health, growth and productivity.

Lions rest in the shade at midday, giving other game species a window of opportunity to quench their thirst at midday.(Source: Pixabay)

If the mineral content of the water makes it toxic, the physical development of the animal will be stunted, and it may even lead to death. Heavy metals accumulate in the muscular tissue over time, and you will notice it only after a while. This can, in time lead to poor feed intake, internal parasites, low fertility and reproduction, or impaired sustainability of offspring, growth tempo and resistance against diseases.

The concentration of minerals in the water can be influenced by various factors, and the effect on the game will differ from farm to farm. The concentration, and therefore toxicity, will also differ from season to season.

A risk assessment should be undertaken to determine the quality of water and if it is suitable for your game species. Water samples need to be analysed to determine the toxicity. This can be expensive, but it will still be cheaper than losing a prized animal due to bad water.

Water requirements of game

The more dry grass the animals eat, the more water they need to drink. (Source: Pixabay)

The requirements of the game species – not only the volume they drink, but also the placement of the watering points – must be kept in mind when planning the layout of your watering points.

Watering points not only regulate the behaviour of game species, but also play a significant role in ecosystems. Most conflict between species occurs when sufficient water, watering points and access to water is limited.

The drier the material the game species ingest, the more water they need to drink. When the veld is lush and green, they will need less water, or even stop drinking water altogether when the moisture content of the feed is sufficient. As the protein content and salinity of the grazing increases, they need more water. There are indications that pregnant females drink more water during the final stages of gestation.

Elephants like to step into the water when they drink.

Different game species need different types and placement of watering points. Where different game species are kept, it is best to provide different types of watering points to suit the needs of all species.

Plains game, such as blue wildebeest, prefer to have a good view of the environment when drinking, while bushbuck prefer a more secluded, sheltered spot.

Elephants, rhinos and warthogs prefer cement troughs, probably because the cool, clean water helps them to regulate their body temperature.

Warthogs and a white rhino share the same water hole. (Source: Pixabay)

Ostriches, springbok, impala, kudu, blue wildebeest, zebra, and buffalo prefer natural watering holes.

Game species have different ways to avoid predators. Ungulates (hoofed animals) approach the watering point up-wind, while giraffes and sable antelope first observe the environment before approaching the water.

Most plains game prefer open watering points where there is little cover for

Smaller game species like impala and warthogs move away as soon as they have had their fill. Springbok and ostriches drink during the middle of the day, while larger predators are usually resting in the shade.

Smaller animals need an adjustment to regular typical farm watering points. Troughs with steep sides that are suitable for bigger game species do not make provision for smaller game species such as tortoises, birds, snakes, rabbits, and rodents to drink from.

Different species of game have different drinking habits and prefer different types of watering points. (Source: Pixabay)

A ramp of stones built on the outside of a trough will provide animals with short legs to safely drink water without falling in. A layer of stones just beneath the surface will also allow birds a safe point from where to quench their thirst. Stones that just stick out above the surface also allow bees and butterflies to drink safely.

Spread of disease

Diseases like anthrax are spread by animals that come to drink, or vultures that like to bathe after eating a diseased carcass.

High salinity can lead to chronic kidney problems, while a high fluoride content in boreholes can cause brittle bones in young buffalo.

Natural pans of water in the veld after rains are important to elephant, buffalo, and warthogs to cool down in summer and to cover their skins with mud to ward off the sun and pesky insects. These pans relieve the pressure on permanent watering points during the rainy season.

The watering system must be designed to stop animals like baboons from tampering with it, and to protect it from destruction by buffalo, rhino or elephants. Black plastic pipes must be buried at least half a metre below the surface.

A baby elephant plays in the mud. (Source: Pixabay)

Contact Ken Coetzee at 076-227-5056 or, or visit the website at for more information or to obtain a copy of the book.

Gouws, A. (2021) Water vir wild: gehalte is net so belangrik soos
beskikbaarheid. Agri Orbit/Veeplaas