The elephant's graveyard is a legend regarding a place where elephants instinctively go when nearing the end of their days. It was often featured in stories where an Evil Poacher
would look for this place, seeking to claim its stores of ivory, and the protagonist would have to protect this sacred place.
It also makes a very impressive and gloomy set pieces, as your heroes walk in-between the giant skeletons.
The origin of the trope is not certain. While elephants do not "look" for a place to die, during periods of famine, they will gather around sources of food and water, and as those get depleted, die there. It is also noted that older elephants whose teeth have worn out seek out soft water plants and eventually die near watering holes, perhaps also causing this myth.
Another possible reason is that elephants are the only species (outside of humans, corvids and Neanderthals) to have shown death rituals. Elephants recognize elephant skeletons for what they are, and will rub the bones with their trunks. Elephants unrelated to the deceased have been noted to visit the graves. They also sometimes treat human
bodies and skeletons with odd respect. The Other Wiki
has an article on this
In speculative fiction
, it's not rare for elephant to be substituted for some very big creature, giving us "Dragon Graveyards" or "Space Whale
Graveyards" or something similar.
Contrast with Derelict Graveyard
, the machine counterpart. See also Creepy Cemetery
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Anime and Manga
- An elephant's graveyard features in Astérix and the Flying Carpet.
- An early comic of Groo The Wanderer plays this for laughs, with Groo following a wheezing, doddery old elephant in the hope of a meal, and finding a huge field of elephant bones. Since he's not quite as stupid as he later becomes, Groo is excited at finding tons of ivory, but his celebration is cut short when the dying elephant falls on him. Just how he survives, and why he doesn't get the ivory after all, is never explained.
- Spoofed in Nodwick, with the legend of the Henchmen's Graveyard, where old henchmen go to die, taking with them all the loot they can carry. It turns out the Graveyard really does exist, but contains no loot — when was the last time you heard of a henchman living to old age?
- Parodied in The Far Side with the Secret Chipmunk Burial Grounds. And the secret Elephant playgrounds, the secret elephant arial grounds, and I think a few others.
- Jungle Comics #2 (February, 1940) introduced the character Fantomah, Mystery Woman of the Jungle. The story involved her efforts to prevent ivory poachers from finding and looting the graveyard of its tusks.
- An elephant's graveyard is the base of operation of the Hyenas in The Lion King.
- MGM's Tarzan talkies, features groups of greedy explorers attempt to locate the elephants' graveyard, on the fictional Mutia Escarpment, in search of its riches of ivory.
- Used in the movie Trader Horn.
- In Pitch Black, the survivors of the crash stumble upon a graveyard of giant extinct aliens. Imam even compares it to an elephant graveyard. Riddick is hiding there.
- In The Last Dinosaur, the titular beast has a lair of this. Implicitly, all the bones are of the dinosaur's previous kills.
- In Star Wars Expanded Universe mythos, the Krayt dragons of Tatooine will return to the Ancient Krayt Graveyard before they die.
- Ian Cameron's The Lost Ones (as well as the Film of the Book The Island at the Top of the World) had a "Whale's Graveyard" where whales went to die.
- Sinbad the Sailor found one on one of his seven voyages.
Live Action TV
- The Sacred Burial Space of Farscape where Leviathans go to die.
- On the Science Channel's Dinosaur Revolution, an aging bull Protoceratops lies down in a valley where the skulls of similar animals are scattered about. We don't actually see it keel over, but echoes of this trope convey the impression that the old bull's life has reached its end.
- Dungeons & Dragons got a few examples, not only elephant, but the idea is the same.
- In Dungeon #15, there is an adventure called The Elephant's Graveyard, and it's Exactly What It Says on the Tin: an adventure romp through the jungle to this fabled place. You can walk away with a huge haul of ivory in the end.
- Astral plane in Planescape doubles as deities' graveyard — a god who loses all worshippers soon becomes one more giant corpse floating in the Silver Void.
- Eberron has a dragon graveyard in the Talenta Plains. The local halfling tribes prevent outsiders from entering this hallowed place (violently). They themselves dare not enter it out of respect (and probably fear).
- Forgotten Realms has dragon graveyards. "Adventurers" sometimes try to get there since in addition to bones and teeth it contains whatever treasure stuck in the scales, was swallowed or donated. Of course, those are also sacred places of the dragons' death god guarded by his priests — if you thought "normal" dragons are bad enough... And one is located in the caldera of an extinct volcano, can only be reached from the air and is guarded by undead dragons.
- In Warhammer there is a legend of a dragon graveyard. Supposedly this is where all the major necromantic villains get their zombie dragons.
- Villains And Vigilantes adventure Devil's Domain. The elephant-like devilope demons have one in the Coral Forest, where their corpses lie decomposing.
- Rolemaster Shadow World setting supplement Star Crown Empire and the Sea of Fates. For 6,000 years elephants have laid down to die at a sacred graveyard in the Chimen jungle in G'thal. A lone explorer found it and created a map, which makes its way to the PCs. They'll have to contend with hungry natives, hostile slavers and the great White Elephants that guard it.
- In Dragon Rage the Bonelands are this but for Dragons.
- In World of Warcraft location Desolace, there is a kodo graveyard. Goblins, being what they are, have found a way to "revitalize" a near dead kodos to sell them to gullible customers.
- Dragonblight, one of the larger areas of the second expansion, is five massive dragon graveyards, over the top of even larger dead dragons.
- Dragonbone Wastes (essentially, a dragon graveyard) are a major location in Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening, as well as the Witch Hunt DLC.
- Pokémon mentions a "Marowak Graveyard" in a few of its Pokédex entries.
- One of the levels of Bulletstorm takes place on a train that drives through a Hekaton graveyard.
- The Dragon's Graveyard of Dragon Quest VIII, while home to only one unremarkable species of dragon, is the site of an important sidequest (as well as a Peninsula of Power Leveling).
- Secret of Evermore has an early location called the Mammoth Graveyard. Since the deaths of the gigantic beasts, swarms of Vipers have taken it over.
- In the Lion King Licensed Game, the Elephant Graveyard is the third level.
- One of the main plot points in Tarzan: Untamed on the GameCube and PlayStation 2 has Tantor beleive he is going to die and heads off to an elephant graveyard accompanied by Jane. Meanwhile, the game's villain, Oswald Gardner, tracks down Tantor and uses Jane as ransom for the ivory laying about. In fact, the elephant graveyard is the location of the final boss battle. And as it turns out, Tantor only had a splinter.
- Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures episode "Ndovu's Last Journey". The elephant Ndovu tries to reach one of these so he can die, with the Quest team fending off poachers trying to stop him.
- ReBoot features a Web Creatures graveyard, which the crew of the Saucy Mare use to skin their ship with web creatures shells and make it web-proof.
- An episode of Seabert featured an elephant graveyard.
- One episode of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon takes place in a dragons' graveyard, where Tiamat makes her lair.