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Elephant Graveyard

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Starkiller: PROXY, are you picking up any communications?
PROXY: Too many to decipher. I can hear thousands of Droids, all calling out to each-other... This is where all Droids go to die...
After arriving at Raxus Prime, The Force Unleashed

The Elephant 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 or Great White Hunter would look for this place, seeking to claim its stores of ivory, and the protagonist would have to protect this sacred place. (This does lead to some interesting Fridge Logic — wouldn't getting ivory from already dead elephants be better than killing them?)

It also makes a very impressive and gloomy set piece, as your heroes walk in between the giant skeletons. Besides the protagonists, of course, it's rare for any other living animals to be in such a place. If they are, however, expect nasty scavenging creatures, like vultures or hyenas, or even post apocalyptic dogs.

The origin of the trope is not certain. While elephants do not "look" for a place to die, they will gather around sources of food and water during periods of famine, 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 (more like a retirement community than a graveyard), perhaps also causing this myth.

Another possible reason is that elephants (and Clever Crows) are the only non-hominids 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 goes into further detail on this.

In speculative fiction, it's not uncommon for elephants to be replaced with some very big fantastical creature, giving us "Dragon Graveyards" or "Space Whale Graveyards" and similar things. In a Prehistoria, Lost World or Hollywood Prehistory-type setting, a "Dinosaur Graveyard" is likely to make an appearance.

Contrast with Derelict Graveyard, the machine counterpart. Contrast Beware the Skull Base which takes this concept and applies it to a single skull shaped formation. See also Creepy Cemetery.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Digimon:
    • Digimon Frontier: Combined with Derelict Graveyard in the form of a "Trailmon Graveyard" in the Continent of Darkness. As it turns out, the Trailmon don't actually die here, they just shed. The "corpses" littering the place are just old, battered husks.
    • Digimon Adventure: (2020): Episode 36 has Taichi, Sora, Hikari, Takeru and Koushiro come across a graveyard of ancient Digimon fossils. According to Patamon, these Digimon were too large to dissolve into data as Digimon normally do, so their bodies rotted away just like normal organic creatures.
  • Doraemon: Nobita's New Dinosaur have Gian and Suneo crossing a dinosaur graveyard in the Cretaceous era, a valley filled with dinosaur bones.
  • Kimba the White Lion: One episode revolves around it. "A friend in deed". Roger Danger is taken captive by elephants when he attempts to cross an Elephant graveyard.
  • The Vision of Escaflowne: The Dragon Graveyard is mined for Energists, which power the Humongous Mecha in the show. Escaflowne itself is unique in that it is powered by an Energist taken from a freshly slain dragon.

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix: An elephant's graveyard features in Asterix and the Flying Carpet. Elephants visit it daily and trample any non-elephant who dares tread this sacred soil. The Big Bad sends some goons to kidnap Cacophonix and dump him there, but he's saved by the strong elephant odor imprinted on him by the weird treatment prescribed for his voice loss.
  • Groo the Wanderer: An early comic 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.
  • Jungle Comics #2 (February, 1940) introduces the character Fantomah, Mystery Woman of the Jungle. The story involves her efforts to prevent ivory poachers from finding and looting the graveyard of its tusks.

    Comic Strips 
  • The Far Side:
    • Parodied with a pair of researchers coming across the coveted Secret Chipmunk Burial Grounds, a large pile of tiny bones.
    • Parodied again, somewhat differently, with the secret elephant playgrounds, the secret elephant aerial grounds, the secret elephant breeding grounds (a bunch of giant, flattened beds), and even the secret appliance burial grounds.
    • Yet another strip has two elephants lost in the jungle and reading a map to find the elephant's graveyard.
      "According to the map, this should be the place — but it sure doesn't look right to me. Well, we're supposed to die around here somewhere."
  • Nodwick: v 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 — the only henchman to ever die of natural causes died bankrupt.

    Film — Animated 
  • The Lion King (1994): The hyenas live in an elephant graveyard covered with titanic skeletons, in addition to the skeletal remains of other animals and volcanic fumaroles.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Island at the Top of the World features a whale graveyard.
  • Kong: Skull Island: One of the important fight scenes takes place in a graveyard of giant monster bones, most notably, the bones of Kong's parents. No one ever goes to that part of Skull Island because of how dangerous it is — mainly because the creatures that killed the owners of those bones still live there.
  • The Last Dinosaur: The titular beast has a lair of this. Implicitly, all the bones are of the dinosaur's previous kills.
  • 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.
  • Tarzan:
    • Tarzan the Ape Man features a group of explorers attempting to locate the elephants' graveyard, on the fictional Mutia Escarpment, in search of its riches of ivory.
    • Tarzan and His Mate: Tarzan, who didn't know why the white men wanted to go to the graveyard, abandons them when he finds out, and then later actively intervenes against them when they push on.
  • Trader Horn: Horn observes that the ivory he's given is of poor quality, pitted because it's been buried too long.
  • Whispers: An Elephant's Tale: Referenced when Groove and Whispers come across a scattered pile of elephant bones.
    Whispers: Is it the elephant graveyard?
    Groove: No. Ain't no such thing, kiddo; that's just a story they tell baby elephants.

  • A classic joke with many variations where elephants, when they know it's time to die, will make a long trip through various perilous terrain (mountains, jungles, fording rivers, and so on) all die at the same spot. The punchline is that the trip itself is the reason for the elephants dying.

  • Bravelands: Elephants who recognize that they're dying leave to die in an elephant graveyard (known as "the Plain of Our Ancestors"). If an elephant dies more suddenly, their family will take their bones to the graveyard. Every year all of Bravelands' elephants travel to the graveyard to mourn.
  • Cradle Series: The city of Serpent's Grave is a dragon graveyard where the last of the black dragons that ruled the original Blackflame Empire died. Bones the size of buildings are scattered around the mountain, and modern construction uses the bones as support. It's not entirely clear why the dragons came here to die; maybe it's just the only place where the bones were preserved when the Dreadgods were rampaging across the continent. Regardless, it became the birthplace of the second Blackflame Empire, as human sacred artists used the power the dragons left behind to mimic their techniques and re-conquer the empire. Their capital was eventually moved, but it remains one of the largest cities in the Empire in the modern day.
  • The Lost Ones (as well as the Film of the Book The Island at the Top of the World) has a "Whale's Graveyard" where whales go to die.
  • A Memoir By Lady Trent: The Vystrani rock-wyrms zealously carry the bodies of their dead to a specific cave in the mountains, which they themselves all lair well away from and which has over time become filled with immense quantities of dragon skeletons. The fact that Khirzoff and Rossi had been systematically hunting the dragons for their bones while preventing the living ones from carrying away the bodies is the cause behind the dragons' increased aggression, as the beasts attacked the local humans in retaliation for the theft of their dead.
  • Sinbad the Sailor finds one on one of his seven voyages. Unlike most modern stories that invoke this trope, Sinbad does not seek to protect the site, but instead reports its location to the locals, whose economy is dependent on the ivory trade but has been losing far too many people while hunting elephants. The graveyard allows them to gather ivory for sale far more safely than trying to track and kill an elephant with bows and spears.
  • Star Wars Legends: The Krayt dragons of Tatooine return to the Krayt Graveyard, a hidden valley deep in the desert, before they die. Treasure-hunters occasionally seek it out in hopes of finding rare Krayt pearls laying among the remains, but few ever return.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • Farscape: The Sacred Burial Space where Leviathans go to die. Sikozu guides a ship of hunters here as they want to harvest the neural cluster tissue of Leviathans, which is highly valued by several species.
  • Ultra Series: The Monster Graveyard, introduced in Episode 35 of the original series, combines this trope with Phantom Zone by acting as a final resting place for the spirits of the many kaiju killed by the Ultras.
  • Xena: Warrior Princess shows that giants leave their dead exposed on the surface in a specific place, creating a graveyard of giant human-looking skeletons.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons has a few examples, including both literal elephant and more fantastic variations on the theme. Dragon graveyards are a particularly common variant.
    • Dungeon magazine:
      • The issue #15 adventure "The Elephant's Graveyard" is 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.
      • Issue #51 adventure "Journey to the Center-of-the-World". In the caves under Mount Fubamizi is a dragons' graveyard containing the remains of 20 dragons of the Progeny of Fulverm family as well as one still-living dragon that the Player Characters will have to fight.
    • Planescape
      • The Astral plane doubles as deities' graveyard — a god who loses all worshippers soon becomes one more giant corpse floating in the Silver Void.
      • Pluton, the third layer of the Lower Outer Plane called the Grey Waste, has the Hill of Bone. When a nightmare (a Neutral Evil planar horse) gets old, it comes to the Hill of Bone to die and leave its bones there. When seen from above, the Hill looks like a huge equine skeleton that's moving.
    • 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, such as the Well of Dragons. "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.
    • Planescape: There's a baku graveyard in Bytopia, where the baku's spiritual leaders go to die and — it is rumored — young baku are reared. The graveyard is closely guarded by a herd of baku and a grove of treants, however, so sneaking in to have a look is much easier said than done.
    • Another dragon graveyard, used specifically by blue dragons, is described in the Sandstorm sourcebook. It is a hidden desert cave that blue wyrms from throughout the world head to when their time comes to die. It is often sought out by adventurers looking for treasure, but none of them ever come away with more than a few bits of bone or horn or scale — the real treasure of the graveyard is the enormous amount of electrical energy the lighting-breathing dragons leave behind when they die.
    • Module OA7 Test of the Samurai. The dragon Anyo may send the Player Characters on a quest to take a sick relative of hers to a sacred dragon burial ground to die.
    • Judges Guild supplement Fantastic Wilderlands Beyonde
      • Desert Lands Idyllic Islands. Hex 5132 has the sacred burial grounds for sea turtles. Anyone who lands on this island will be followed thereafter by a giant turtle who will try to ram any ship they are on.
      • Sea of Five Winds Idyllic Islands, hex 2602. The larger island has the burial grounds for giant sea spiders. Small sea spiders live on the island until they are large enough to take to the ocean, and return here to die.
  • Exalted: In the House of the Bull God supplement, a Deathknight is trying to create a demesne aligned with the Underworld to power his manse. It has an extant elephant graveyard as its focal point but its proceeding too slowly for his taste so he's helping it along by driving herds of elephants to the area and slaughtering them wholesale.
  • Legendary Lives: When elves are dying of old age they go into the woods and are never be seen again. According to legend, they are traveling to the secret burial ground of the elves. Only dying elves know where the burial ground is, they have never told anyone else where it is and no one has been able to track them to it.
  • Pathfinder: A sidequest in the Kingmaker adventure path has an Awakened mammoth asking the PCs to help him defeat linnorm that chased him off the graveyard he was protecting. If you help him, he'll actually let you take some of the ivory as a reward.
  • Rolemaster Shadow World setting supplement Star Crown Empire and the Sea of Fates. For 6,000 years elephants have lain 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.
  • Warhammer:
    • There is a legend of a dragon graveyard, where ancient wyrms go to die when they feel death creeping up on them. Supposedly this is where all the major necromantic villains get their zombie dragons.
    • Stonehorns, giant beasts native to the Mountains of Mourn, slowly petrify as they age — this begins with their horns, facial plates and tusks, which are made out of rock in almost every specimen alive, but spreads to the rest of their bodies until the Stonehorn becomes a lifeless statue. Ancient Stonehorns head to a number of burial grounds before this time comes, with the most notable one, the Granitetooth Graveyard, being filled with endless ranks of mammoth statues. Treasure-hunters are regularly lured to this graveyard by rumors of the Stonehorns' flesh and organs turning into valuable minerals, but the deadly cold of the area and the largely petrified but still very much alive beasts waiting among the dead mean that few of these treasure seekers come back alive.
  • Villains & Vigilantes adventure Devil's Domain. The elephant-like devilope demons have one in the Coral Forest, where their corpses lie decomposing.

    Video Games 
  • Bulletstorm: One of the levels takes place on a train that drives through a Hekaton graveyard.
  • Donkey Kong Country Returns: The Cliff world is a fossil version of this: the bones of dinosaurs and sea reptiles, as well as enormous nautilus shells, are everywhere.
  • Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening: Dragonbone Wastes (essentially, a dragon graveyard) is a major location, as well as the Witch Hunt DLC.
  • Dragon Rage: The Bonelands are this but for dragons.
  • Dragon Quest VIII: The Dragon's Graveyard, while home to only one unremarkable species of dragon, is the site of an important sidequest (as well as a Peninsula of Power Leveling).
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: There's a mammoth graveyard to the north of the town of Whiterun that isn't marked on the map. The giants, who herd the mammoths and keep them as pets, seem to consider the place to be sacred, as you can see sections of it marked with their unique patterns. You're tasked with hunting the Mammoth Guardian Spirit who resides there as part of the sidequest "Kyne's Sacred Trials".
  • The Force Unleashed has Raxus Prime serve a symbolic Elephant Graveyard for the Droids in Star Wars.
    PROXY: I can hear thousands of Droids all crying out to one-another... This is where all Droids go to die.
  • Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem has the Flame Barrel, a volcano, where the degenerated Fire Dragons go to await death. Dragons in this continuity were once sapient creatures with a great civilisation of their own but nearly their entire species has long since degenerated into a bestial state. The dragons who await their death at the Flame Barrel end up being enslaved and used as beasts of burden and war by the barbarian clans who rule the region.
  • Jitsu Squad have a stage called "Primal Rage", set in prehistoric times, where the background is a massive boneyard filled with the remains of dinosaurs, mammoths, sabre-toothed tigers, and assorted prehistoric wildlife.
  • The Lion King: In the Licensed Game, the Elephant Graveyard is the third level.
  • Monster Hunter: World: The Rotten Vale is an entire cavern of rotting bones (some Kaiju-sized) and the occasional corpse falling in from the Coral Highlands above. This is eventually revealed to be where Elder Dragons go to die. The upper section of the Vale is, in fact, the corpse of a truly titanic Dalamadur, a type of gigantic serpentine elder dragon. These ancient remains rest atop the rocky foundations of the lower Vale.
  • Ori and the Will of the Wisps: There's a large section of the Silent Woods covered in the skeletons of giant owls. It's where Shriek was born. Earlier in the game, Howl's Den, in addition to the bones of various other creatures, has a literal elephant or mammoth skull in the background.
  • Pokémon mentions a "Marowak Graveyard" in a few of its Pokédex entries. Though it's a subversion as Marowaks aren't giant.
  • Prehistorik Man is a long quest to find the dinosaur graveyard and loot its vast reserves of bones.
  • 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.
  • Sunless Sea has the Gant Pole (gant being a Fictional Colour), a place "where things go die", with not quite much of an explanation as to why or how, though some suspect the Chelonate's denizens may be involved. Since this is the Unterzee, the bones you find are Kraken and Leviathan-sized, and you can sail through the ribcages of monsters too big to think about. Once the Zubmariner expansion came out, it became possible to actually visit the place, and the fact there's a giant stone heart underwater right where the Pole is, and the fact that mauling zee-monsters to within an inch of their lives and then letting them come here to die is a perfectly viable way of delivering live creatures to the Heart's denizens, the mysteries only grew.
  • Tarzan: Untamed: One of the main plot points has Tantor believe 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.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • There's a kodo graveyard in Desolace. Goblins, being what they are, have found a way to "revitalize" near dead kodos to sell them to gullible customers. Following the trope, its other mobs tend to be scavenging birds and hyenas.
    • Dragonblight, one of the larger areas of Wrath of the Lich King, is five massive dragon graveyards, over the top of even larger dead dragons.

    Western Animation 
  • Dragon Hunters: One episode has the Borback Cemetery, a remote floating island where Borbacks (a type of wingless, one-horned dragon with an incredibly hard skin) come to die, their bones cleaned by the local raptor-like scavenger dragons. Of course, the villain of the episode who hired Gwyzdo and Lian Chu wanted to take the precious bones and horns for himself, leaving the two heroes behind as bait for the scavengers.
  • Dragons: Riders of Berk: The island of Vanaheim is where sick and elderly dragons go to die. The island is built on a Bewilderbeast skeleton and is guarded by the gargoyle-like Sentinels. Most notably, the human characters don't know how the dragons know to go to Vanaheim when they're dying, especially as most have never lived near the island.
  • Dungeons & Dragons (1983): One episode takes place in a dragons' graveyard, where Tiamat makes her lair.
  • Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures episode "Ndovu's Last Journey". The elephant Ndovu tries to reach one of these so he can die, and choosing Jonny to accompany him there. Naturally, poachers get involved.
  • The Legend of Tarzan: One episode has Tarzan and the tribal prince Basuli questing for an eagle's feather, and their journey takes them through one of these. Basuli immediately wants to leave, believing elephant graveyards bring the worst of luck, and this is seemingly confirmed when a treacherous warrior sends a rockslide their way.
  • Primal (2019): in the third episode, "A Cold Death", a key antagonistic force is a herd of mammoths who seek out and attack the caveman-dinosaur duo of Spear and Fang as revenge for killing and eating one of their herd who became separated from them in a blizzard. It turns out in the last minutes of the episode that they were on a journey to an elephant graveyard because the mammoth in question was already in the process of dying of old age and leave Spear and Fang alone once they return a tusk taken from the body of the mammoth. The episode closes out with the mammoths conducting a sort of funeral for their dead companion.
  • 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.
  • Seabert: One episode features an elephant graveyard.

    Real Life 
  • Fossil-bearing rock formations can invoke this kind of imagery, though it's unlikely that any of the animals in the area went there to die voluntarily. Some fossil formation sites even have names to reflect this concept.
  • Whereas humans are born with 2 sets of teeth, elephants are born with 6 sets. As the last set wears down,note  elephants can only eat softer food, so they tend to congregate in areas where there is plenty of soft — albeit not very nutritious — vegetation and water. Once the teeth wear completely smooth, the elephant can't chew properly, and so dies of malnutrition. As time passes and more elephants die in one spot, the skeletons pile up, giving the impression of a communal death site.
    • Alternatively, such a site can form when a large group of elephants is killed in one spot (either by ivory and/or bushmeat poachers, or by misguided game wardens who cull the elephant herds in a particular area to ease the strain on the vegetation).

Alternative Title(s): Giant Animals Graveyard


The Bonelands

The Bonelands, a dragon graveyard.

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