In short, the idea comes from Kipling that animals observe a sort of truce around watering holes and prey animals do not have to be on guard (as much?) from predators in the vicinity.

I have read that this is false, that predators might even wait around watering holes for prey. However: Cleaning stations in the ocean seem to have rules and a truce (and a fish violating these rules, primarily not to attack other fish waiting to be cleaned is attacked by other fish of various species). So the idea of a truce at waterholes, perhaps only partially observed, is not that far fetched.

I wonder too if lions, for example, at some level understand that in order to survive they need prey to be able to eat/drink and breed. While this also sounds too sophisticated, is it any more sophisticated than the behavior of killing cubs so that females come into heat?

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Feb 19, 2020 at 0:10

1 Answer 1


Cleaning stations offer a pretty strong individual incentive not to attack, those that attack do not get cleaned and thus get riddled with parasites. Watering holes are just the opposite there is no advantage to not attacking and in fact a decent advantage for attacking, (a meal) many predators hang around watering holes just because the draw prey.

To put it another way the genes from lion A say hunt things at the watering hole, the genes from lion B say don't, Lion A is going to have more meals and thus more offspring than lion B therefore the genes to hunt at the waterhole will spread. Lion B gains no benefit from not hunting at watering holes that can offset the very large and immediate advantage lion A gets. This is a good general test to why group selection generally doesn't work, even if all lions were type B as soon as lion A occurs from a mutation it has a huge advantage and drives out lion B's genes.

There is quite a lot of evidence that predators often concentrate around watering holes, heck this is how crocodiles make a living. The idea that lions do not is an out dated and stems from early observations done only during the day (when lions are mostly inactive yet close to watering holes to hunt at night), spread by fiction writers and reinforced by advertising and poorly researched articles.



The Serengeti Lion: A Study of Predator-Prey Relations By George B. Schaller

Seasonal Diet and Prey Preference of the African Lion in a Waterhole-Driven Semi-Arid Savanna

  • $\begingroup$ If you look at predators as being "farmers" of a sort, the lions, etc. realize that absolutely terrorizing their prey would result in probably their finding another watering hole where predators are more judicious about what they hunt. $\endgroup$
    – releseabe
    Apr 10, 2022 at 15:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @releseabe except watering holes are few and far between and there are many predators each using them, so prey have no choice, also if the prey can move so can the predators. there is again no benefit. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 11, 2022 at 0:21

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