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The Myth of the Elephant Graveyard

Animals in History | February 15, 2019

A Sumatran elephant on February 14, 2019. (Photo by CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN / AFP/Getty Images)

Legends persist that deep in the untamed jungles of Africa is a fabled place known as the elephant graveyard. It is said that this is a mystical place that beckons dying elephants to their final resting place. The elephant graveyard has been a much sought-after place for several reasons, but the one that seems to attract most adventurers is the promise of mounds and mounds of ivory just waiting for the taking. While many explorers have sought the legendary place, the elephant graveyard remains elusive. Is the elephant graveyard a myth? Or is there some truth to the legends? 

Source: (worldwildlife.org)

Do Elephants Know When They are Going to Die?

According to the myth of the elephant graveyard, elephants instinctively known that death is near so they will separate themselves from their herd and journey alone to the elephant graveyard. Although there have been several stories of older elephants that leave the herd and wander off to die, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the elephants have had a premonition of their impending death. In many of the cases, the older elephant leaves to search for softer food that is easier for them the chew. The animal may die of other causes, coincidentally, while on this solo trek. 

The elephant graveyard scene from Disney's "Lion King". Source: (lionking.fandome.com)

Have Explorers Found Elephant Graveyards?

Many explorers have gone looking for the elephant graveyard. Some have returned empty-handed and some have never returned at all. Throughout the history of Africa exploration, there have been occasional tales of an explorer or adventurer claiming to have discovered the mythical elephant graveyard has surfaced. But none of these people were able to relocate the elephant graveyard and prove that they had, indeed, found it. 

Source: (wildcard.co.za)

Do Elephants Know How to Throw a Human off Its Track?

Some innovated explorers seeking the fabled elephant graveyard have tried to follow an aging elephant in hopes that it will lead him to the legendary place. There have been several reports of adventurers following an elderly elephant for days or weeks, only to discover that the elephant has led them in circles. That has caused some to speculate that the elephant is somehow aware of its stalker and has an innate desire to protect the elephant graveyard. So despite being near death, the animal will wander around in circles, hoping to shake its stalker before it can continue its journey to the elephant graveyard. 

Source: (biology.knoji.com)

Are There Mysterious Guardians to the Elephant Graveyard?

According to some of the legends about the elephant graveyards, there are mystical beings…sometimes humans, sometimes elephants…who watch over and protect the sacred elephant graveyard. Some people believe that the explorers who have gone missing while searching for the elephant graveyard were either captured and held prisoner by the guards, or killed by them. One extraordinary story associated with the elephant graveyard claims that there is a book of magic spells located there that contain the solutions to wars and hatred. 

An elephant tusk. Source: (researchgate.net)

Could Clusters of Elephant Skeletons Have Started the Myth?

Sometimes, several elephants die in the same place, either from being hunted or from a natural disaster, like a flood. Aging elephants with worn down teeth, a common occurrence as elephants age, seek out softer, easier to digest food sources, so older elephants end up gathering in the same spot. Other times, when food is scarce, a whole herd may gather at a place that offers some food, but not enough to stave off starvation. When they die, there are several elephant remains in one place, which may have given rise to the myth of the elephant graveyard. 

Source: (elephantsforever.co.za)

Do Elephants Understand Death?

Researchers studying elephants believe that the animals have some degree of understanding about death. They appear to mourn the death of fallen herd members and that mourning period can last for days or weeks. Elephants have been observed burying their dead, and have even buried humans that they have found dead. Even though the elephant graveyard is most likely a mythical place, elephants do seeming to have a deeper understanding of death than many other animals. 

Tags: elephant graveyard myth or legend, elephants, graveyard, ivory, elephants death

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.