Game trails towards water in African savannas

Larger herbivores in African savannas formed game trails by regular use over eons of years and many, many generations. These trails connect water sources, plus feeding- and bedding areas within their home range. And for a few of them, they serve to mark territories. Natural obstacles, like rocky hills, dongas (deep erosions) or water courses are choking points, where trails also converge.

Types of game trails

Mixed game trails

If just considering animal trails leading us to water sources, there are three different types of them. Firstly, mixed game trails, which are meandering through the savannah. They contain mainly hooves of different antelopes and other herbivores, interspersed with paw marks and bird tracks.

Elephant trails

Secondly, there are elephant trails. They are like highways in the bush or savannah and easy to spot even over rocky areas. Typical elephant trail width will be from 1m (3 feet) to about 1,5 meters (5 feet) wide. There is often a smooth ground surface due to the flexible soles and weight of elephants. And there is also far less meandering compared to mixed game trails. Such elephant highways are also often used by other animals, both herbivores, as well as carnivores. By far smaller versions of elephant trails will be the territorial trails of Rhinos, which we disregard in the article.

Although elephants will drink at least once a day, their trails are difficult to judge into which area (feeding, drinking, or resting) they lead. Therefore, a generalization is not possible. Always the lay of the land, combined with the surrounding vegetation has to be considered. But if finding on the elephant trail the correct direction towards the water, the water problems are solved. Because elephants will always drink clean water and if not available, will dig in the sand for clean water in sufficient quantities.

Hippo trails

And thirdly, Hippo trails show two distinctive rows of tracks. Which was already described in our article about the dangers of hippos on land. When standing in front of a game trail in the savannah and wondering where to go to find water, it is necessary to determine, which type of trail it is. Either a mixed trail, or elephant trail, or from hippos. If from hippos, it’s great, as they are always close to water. Just follow them opposite to feeding areas on land.

Y-shaped mixed game trails will lead to water

That leaves us with mixed game trails. And there are some parameters, which will help us solve the equation. One of them is, that grazers have to drink daily, whereas browsers do not. Grazers for example are Blue Wildebeest, Zebra, or Impala. Browsers for example are Eland, Kudu, or Klipspringer.

Seeing a trail with the tracks of grazers, not the direction of where the hooves are pointing is important, but the confluence with other mixed game trails. These merging trails form typical Y-shapes, from which the single resulting trail is leading towards water. In a typical flat savannah country, either single waterholes or linear water lines (sandy creeks) with only certain access points will provide the life-saving liquid. Therefore, all game trails will converge towards these single points.

And one more piece of information is important: Following mixed game trails with Zebra tracks on it will lead you to clean water. Because Zebras are very finicky and will only drink the cleanest available liquid.

Lessons learned from animal trails towards water:

  • In African savannah biomes, there are three main types of game trails.
  • These are Mixed game trails, elephant trails, and hippo trails.
  • Hippo trails are always close to water bodies.
  • The direction of elephant trails towards water can only be judged in combination with surrounding factors.
  • Y-shaped mixed game trails will lead to water.
  • Elephants and Zebras will only drink clean water.

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