The closest functioning waterhole in the vicinity of the Berg-en-Dal rest camp in the Kruger National Park is Matjulu. On our approach we saw a herd of elephants making their way through the bare, drought-ravaged veld towards this water source.
Some were already drinking there when we arrived. Given their size and the number of them, the elephants tended to dominate the waterhole. As they appeared to be preparing to leave, it seemed as if the matriarch was discouraging a young bull from following the herd – a common phenomenon. Loud trumpeting and determined movements ensued. The elephants dispersed into the shrubs and dry-looking trees; the young bull followed them at a distance then returned to the waterhole on his own before he too wandered off through the trees.
Only once he had left did the troop of chacma baboons already fanned around the periphery start moving towards the water in an orderly fashion: mothers with babies clinging underneath them came first, followed by youngsters and the unencumbered. The last to move through was a very large male.
Their movements were languid. Some drank deeply while others carefully groomed either each other or their babies. During all this activity, a herd of Cape buffalo lay contentedly chewing the cud in the straggly shade of some nearby bushes.
As the baboons spread out in the veld across the road from the waterhole a white rhinoceros cow and her calf walked through the scrubby vegetation to approach the artificial waterhole.
Two more white rhinos approached from the opposite direction to quench their thirst too.
It was only once they had moved off that the Cape buffaloes stood up to take their turn and the waterhole.
One of the rhinos was lying down at the waterhole when we arrived shortly after sunrise the following morning.
A steenbok cautiously approached and bent its head down towards the water – alas, the water level was too far down for it to reach. The thirsty animal spent about half an hour circling the cement-lined waterhole without drinking anything.
We witnessed a herd of impala experiencing a similar frustration as they too were unable to get down the sloping sides to reach the water.