The Magic of a Mud Bath
Is there anything more delightful than watching a herd of happy elephants snorting and cavorting around in the mud? They aren’t the only animals who enjoy a good mud bath, though. Rhinos, buffalos and warthogs are all regular partakers, too.
But what’s behind this bush bathtime ritual? (Because it certainly isn’t about getting clean!)
Mud Bath Magic
Mud baths, better known as wallows, are common in the rainy season (November – March in the Sabi Sand), when trodden or indented parts of earth are eroded and washed down into little pools. These pools will mainly take shape in clay-rich soil because water does not easily drain from clay.
Upon discovering a good wallow, a herd or family may return to it, deepening the wallow over time until, in some cases, the wallow itself becomes a water hole, catching rain and growing larger. In this way, animals shape and influence their environment as much as it influences them.
Just think: An elephant’s footprint, made in clay, catches water in the rainy season and becomes a mud wallow which eventually grows into a water hole – simply incredible.
There are a number of reasons animals like to wallow in the mud.
Firstly, your mud bath-loving animals are usually those with little hair on their bodies and relatively few sweat glands. To them, wallowing functions as a cooling method and helps to regulate body temperature. This is particularly true of animals like elephants, who have a large area to cool down come those hot summer days.
It’s not only the wallow itself that cools these animals down, but the residual layer of mud that coats their skin afterwards and acts as a natural sun barrier to protect their skin from getting burnt.
We don’t often associate animals with sunburn, but this is a reality. Just watch the next buffalo you see rolling around in the mud – afterwards, they’re likely to go and find a shady spot to relax, away from the harsh summer rays.
This mud layer has two more benefits: It provides relief from biting insects and it embeds any parasites, like ticks, which then come off when the animal gives itself a good scratch on a nearby rubbing post.
With all of the above taken into consideration, we’d bet another important reason for mud baths is that they’re a lot of fun!
Like people, animals with strong family ties bond while playing, and the silliness of spraying your sibling with water translates into every language.
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Come and discover more animal bush rituals with us and witness the joy of a mud wallow from the back of one of the Leopard Hills vehicles!