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A trope Older Than Radio, 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 hole, 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. 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.

Examples of Elephant Graveyard include:


Anime and Manga


Comics

  • An elephant's graveyard features in Asterix 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.


Film

  • 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.


Literature

  • 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.


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

  • A non-elephant example. In the Dungeons and Dragons Eberron campaign setting, there is 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).
    • 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.
  • In Warhammer there is a legend of a dragon graveyard. Supposedly this is where all the major necromantic villains get their zombie dragons.
  • Forgotten Realms has dragon graveyards. "Adventurers" sometimes try to get there since in addition to bones and teeth it's 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, so...
    • One of the more noted "dragon's graveyards" in the Forgotten Realms is located in the caldera of an extinct volcano and can only be reached from the air. And its guarded by undead dragons.
  • Villains and Vigilantes adventure Devil's Domain. The elephant-like devilope demons have one in the Coral Forest, where their corpse lie decomposing.


Video Games

  • 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.


Western Animation

  • The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest 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.
  • Re Boot 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.
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