12 Comments

on Do Elephant Graveyards Exist?

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Marinda Drake
Master Tracker

Great footage captured on the video Shaun. I have seen elephants smell and touch the bones before. An elephant died of anthrax at the Tohongenyeni waterhole close to Mopani in Kruger in January 2013. Those bones are still around there today. The skull has moved quite a few meters into the veld. It can only be elephants moving it as it is probably very heavy. Although hyena are very strong and might be able to pick it up. There are a huge amount of elephant traffic in the area. I have read a few books that touch on this subject but no new information than what you wrote about in the blog. It is a subject thst is fascinating.

Darlene Knott
Senior Digital Ranger

Fascinating reading! And I loved the video. You could almost feel his emotion! Thanks for sharing, Shaun! Good luck on researching this topic. I would love to see any updates.

Ian Hall
Senior Digital Ranger

I think this response has been seen and noted before with elephants deliberately scattering bones of other elephants. Who knows what goes through an elephant’s mind?

Judy Hayden
Explorer

Great story, information and photos. I have always been interested in this topic. As they say that elephants can remember other elephants as long as 25 years or more, after being separated. It appears to me that they definitely morn a loss, and part of that process is feeling and smelling the bones. The question is are they trying to identify the lost elephant as they will go back more than once to visit the grave site. In other videos I have seen, although they move the bones around, they are very careful not to step on them. A sign of respect-maybe. I would like to believe so. I dream of coming over there one day. I would like to see this in person.

Jeff Rodgers
Senior Digital Ranger

I have seen this behavior from a bull elephant in Botswana. We watched for about 10 minutes as he picked up bones from a deceased elephant and held them high while his eyes were closed. We finally left as we felt as if we were intruding on his mourning process.

Callum Evans
Guest contributor

I have not seen this behaviour myself, but I did know about it. On the first day of my iMfolozi Wilderness Trail, we found the old bones of an elephant bull. They had been scattered around the site, in a manner that matches your description. There was one femur that had been broken in half by one elephant, and we found 2 other bones about 500 metres up the game trail.

I am 100% convinced that elephants and certain other animals experience complex emotions like grief. I recently watched an episode of Blue Planet 2 that showed a pilot whale mother carrying her calf that had been dead for many days, with the whole pod appearing to mourn its death. And pilot whales are potentially more intelligent than elephants, so it makes sense.

Denise Vouri
Digital Tracker

Love the video Shaun. Reminds me of elephants I saw in Botswana exploring the vibes of a bull elephant that mist likely died from natural causes. The bones were in a rather secluded area of the bush leading rangers to believe he walked off to die there. The two visitors smelled around the bones, moved them around and then left. It does. Eg the question, do elephants mourn initially and then return to “graveyards “ to pay their respects from time to time. Great research project!

A B
Explorer

Interesting topic..quite intrigued and would love to know further if anything more comes to light.

Joanne Wadsworth Kelley
Digital Tracker

What a fascinating video! So much is unknown surrounding this sensitive and intelligent animal.

Cynthia House
Explorer

Recently I was watching an online doco about lion interactions that featured the reactions of giraffe when they came across the bones of another giraffe that the lions had killed. One by one they arrived at the bones behaving in much the same way elephants do, sniffing, looking and even nuzzling the bones. They stood around the bones looking at down at them in a clear display of some kind of awareness that almost looked liked a homage to the deceased giraffe. It was incredibly moving.

Amy Attenborough
Media Team

Such an interesting topic Shauno and beautifully captured. I’ve also seen behaviour like this before at Phinda. There an elephant bull died in much the same way and whenever herds of elephants passed through the area for years after his death, they would make a detour to visit the site. There they would roll the bones, pick them up, smell them, move them, all the while sweating from their temporal glands and rumbling to one another. Truly amazing to witness.

Eulalia Angédu
Explorer

Very interesting text.Elephants i suppose have very close traits with humans.They mourn,the spend time to look and gather their kin bones,that is simply incredible.Awesome text and blog. Applause
Shaun.

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