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Types of Waterholes

Two elephants drinking at a waterhole in Etosha National Park, Namibia

Although Etosha National Park has an intricate road system linking the rest camps with over 30 waterholes, some of these roads will be closed from time to time during the rainy season, or for maintenance.

Please check with the tourist offices at the rest camps before planning your route. Uniquely, the waterholes at the rest camps in Etosha are floodlit, allowing guests opportunities for game spotting around the clock and the privilege of viewing nocturnal species.

Types of Waterholes

Waterholes offer the best game viewing opportunities in Etosha, especially during the dry season when there is a shortage of water in the park; the animals have to rely on these waterholes, where they congregate in the early morning and in the late afternoon and evenings to drink.

Altogether there are 5 different kinds of waterholes:

1. Ephemeral water holes

During the rainy season, natural shallow depressions are filled with water providing an abundance of water for the animals. These soon evaporate however, and have usually disappeared by June. There are a large number of ephemeral waterholes in Etosha and no further detail will be provided on them due to their transient nature.

2. Contact Springs

At break points in the surface of the earth, water seeps to the surface between layers of rock. These springs do not supply large amounts of water and are heavily dependent on rainfall, tending to dry up when the rains are poor.

This type of waterhole may be found at:

3. Water-Table Springs

This type of spring occurs where depressions in the earth meet the water table, usually in deep lime valleys. The output of these springs is dependent on the level of the water table at the time. In some place, humans and animals have excavated these springs to get to the water.

Examples of water-table springs are:

Some of these natural springs have been enhanced by making use of pumps driven by windmills, diesel or solar power.

4. Artesian Springs

Usually occurring above limestone outcrops, an artesian spring occurs where pressure from underlying rock forces water to the surface in a fountain.

There are Artesian springs at:

5. Artificial Waterholes

Artificial waterholes are boreholes which have been sunk by park management to pump water from the water-table to the surface. Although, this can only be done where there is a suitable water supply, some of these have been strategically placed to attract game to previously underutilised areas.

Examples of man-made waterholes are:

Over time, the concentration of people and animals in the vicinity has had a significant impact on the water levels and vegetation around the waterholes. Bare earth, dust and rocks surround the waterholes during the dry season but fortunately, this is temporary.

As soon as the rains commence, not only does it bring relief to the parched earth, but the animals also disperse to other water sources, giving the land time to recover.

For a short while each year, lush grasslands once again flourish around the waterholes, until the steady influx of hoofs, paws and hungry mouths once again eradicates the surrounding vegetation.

Another aspect that has had a dramatic effect on the flora of Etosha is the necessity of fencing in the game. Elephants in particular, are usually seasonal migrants and do great damage to trees and shrubs when their movements are restricted.

The gradual decline in the earth’s water tables has also had a profound influence on Etosha’s plants.

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