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Elephants' Graveyard

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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. 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.

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 Creepy 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 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. In a Prehistoria, Lost World or 1 Million B.C.-type setting, a "Dinosaur Graveyard" is likely to make an appearance.

Contrast with Derelict Graveyard, the machine counterpart. See also Creepy Cemetery.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • The Dragon Graveyard in The Vision of Escaflowne 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.
  • Combined with Derelict Graveyard in Digimon Frontier, which had a "Trailmon Graveyard" in the Continent of Darkness. Though it turns out the Trailmon don't actually die here, they just shed. The "corpses" littering the place are just old, battered husks.

  • 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.
  • 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 — the only henchman to ever die of natural causes died bankrupt.
  • 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 arial grounds, and probably 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 home of the hyenas in The Lion King.
  • Tarzan: One of the early talkies features groups of greedy explorers attempt to locate the elephants' graveyard, on the fictional Mutia Escarpment, in search of its riches of ivory. In 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.
  • Used in the movie Trader Horn. Horn observes that the ivory he's given is of poor quality, pitted because it's been buried too long.
  • 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.
  • A whale graveyard appears in Disney's The Island at the Top of the World.
  • In 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.

  • A classic joke with many variations where elephants, when they know it's time to die, will make a long trip through various perioulous 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.

  • 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. Unlike most modern stories that invoke this trope, Sinbad does not seek to protect the site, but instead reports it's location to the locals, whose economy was dependent on the ivory trade but had been losing far too many people while hunting elephants. The graveyard allowed them to gather ivory for sale far more safely than trying to track and kill an elephant with bows and spears.
  • In 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.

    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.

    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.
    • 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.
    • 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 (an 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. "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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
  • In Warhammer there is a legend of a dragon graveyard. Supposedly this is where all the major necromantic villains get their zombie dragons.
  • Villains & 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.
  • A sidequest in the Pathfinder Adventure Path "Kingmaker" 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.
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • 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. Though it's a subversion as Marowaks aren't giant.
  • 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 Nintendo GameCube and PlayStation 2 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.
  • Prehistorik Man is a long quest to find the dinosaur graveyard and loot its vast reserves of bones.
  • In 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'.
  • 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.
  • 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. Eventually revealed to be where Elder Dragons go to die.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Real Life 

Alternative Title(s): Giant Animals Graveyard