Elephant Some Common Myths Thought to be True - Myth 37
Myth 37: Elephant Graveyard - Special Place to Die

An elephants' graveyard (also written elephant graveyard or elephant's graveyard) is a place where, according to legend, older elephants instinctively direct themselves when they reach a certain age. They then die there alone, far from the group.

Several theories are given about the humor12-myth's origin. One theory involves people finding groups of elephant skeletons together, or observing old elephants and skeletons in the same habitat. Others suggest the term may spring from group die-offs, such as one excavated in Saxony-Anhalt, which had 27 Palaeoloxodon antique skeletons. In that particular case, the tusks of the skeletons were missing, which indicated either hunters killed a group of elephants in one spot, or else opportunistic scavengers removed the tusks from a natural die-off.


Other theories focus on elephant behavior during lean times, suggesting starving elephants gather in places where finding food is easier, and subsequently die there. Similarly, Rupert Sheldrake notes that elephant skeletons are frequently found in groups near permanent sources of water and suggests elephants suffering from malnutrition instinctively seek out sources of water in the hopes of improving their condition. The elephants that do not improve develop increasingly low blood sugar, slip into a coma and die. Finally, older elephants whose teeth have worn out (typically after their sixth set of teeth) seek out soft water plants and eventually die near watering holes.

The humor12-myth was popularized in films such as Trader Horn and MGM's Tarzan movies, in which groups of greedy explorers attempt to locate the elephants' graveyard, on the fictional Mutia Escarpment, in search of its riches of ivory. Osamu Tezuka's Kimba the White Lion episode "A Friend in Deed" centered around it. More recently, Walt Disney's The Lion King referred to the motif. Also, a character from the The X-Files episode "Fearful Symmetry", which revolves around a mysterious invisible elephant, refers to the concept as fact.

Prolific elephant hunter Walter "Karamojo" Bell discounted the idea of the elephant's graveyard, stating that bones and "tusks were still lying about in the bush where they had lain for years."

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