Legend of Elephant Graveyard May Be True
by Dirk Vander Ploeg
|The elephants showed a strong preference towards an elephant skull (middle) rather than the skulls of a buffalo or a rhino (Image: Royal Society/Karen McComb)
There is a legend in Africa that speculates that elder elephants knowing that their death was imminent left their herds and traveled to a place known as the Elephant Graveyard. It was believed this graveyard was the final destination for literally thousands of elephants and that their bones and tusks littered the area. This graveyard has never been discovered and has been the subject of speculation for many years. I first became aware of the myth of the elephant graveyard after reading King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard as a child.
Now there may be proof that this legend has a basis in fact.
Researchers from the United Kingdom and Kenya have learned that elephants are aware and show interest and emotion when they come across elephant skulls and tusks. They do not show interest in bones or skulls of other animals. Some African elephants have become emotional and highly agitated when they come across elephant remains.
The study of the creatures' responses to skulls and ivory suggests strongly suggests that they recognize relatives.
Only humans and a few other animals demonstrate awareness of the remains of their own kind. Chimpanzees seem to have rituals concerning their dead and only abandon the bodies when they begin to decompose. Lions have been seen to show emotions to dead family members by sniffing and/or licking the body prior to devouring it.
Although the team agrees that elephants are aware of their relatives they cannot confirm the stories that elephants specifically visit the bones of dead relatives.
"But their interest in the ivory and skulls of their own species means that they would be highly likely to visit the bones of relatives who die within their home range," confirms the team of researchers.
“Elephants are highly intelligent and highly tactile animals,” says David Field, head of animal care for London and Whipsnade Zoos in the UK. “The fact they are able to distinguish between their own skulls and those of other species is not surprising.”
“Elephants themselves are a matriarchal society filled with aunties and family members who have close bonds within a group," he adds. A death in the family might be a significant social event. “It could have an impact on social bonding and structure within the group,” he added.
In conclusion, we now know that elephants are aware of and emotionally attached to the remains of their dead. As death approaches them we can only speculate if they are drawn to an elephant graveyard and where it could possibly be.
Article inspired by and quotes attributed to newscientist.com. Photo credited to the same source.
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