Wildlife: When the donkey digs for water

Anyone looking for water in the desert should bring a donkey or a horse. Or even better: an elephant. This can at least be deduced from a scientific paper that was recently published in the specialist magazine “Science” has appeared. In it, an international team of researchers examined the impact larger animals have on ecosystems. Lo and behold: sooner or later the species mentioned dig for water in very dry areas, from which smaller creatures benefit.

In North America, where the team’s observations took place, the whole thing only works with wild horses and donkeys. But these reliably dug up to two meters deep “wells” in the soil of the Sonoran desert in the US state of Arizona, as photos from camera traps have shown. This would have significantly increased the number of watering holes for the ungulates and also made it easier for other animals to survive.


© Petra Kaczensky; Lundgren, EJ et al .: Equids engineer desert water availability. Science 372, 2021, fig. 1C (section)

An Asiatic donkey digs for water

The behavior of conspecifics in Asia and Africa has been known for some time. Elephants, billy goats and zebras also search for groundwater there if they have to. From the authors’ point of view, this is a long-neglected form of landscape maintenance that could help to preserve ecosystems in dry periods. But only if large wild animals do not disappear completely: As is well known, their number has decreased sharply over the past millennia.


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