The short answer is no. In my years of guiding, I have never found any evidence to support this myth. However, in saying this, elephants who are old and probably ready to pass on have a very strong realisation of their impending death. With their final set of teeth wearing thin, finding enough food becomes a struggle and as they lack the energy and nutrition to get through each day, they move to areas where there is enough fresh water, an equally vital need. These are usually areas where they have been before or are quite familiar with. These ‘retirement areas’ are well-referred to in East African among bulls, where old bulls were recorded to move into areas away from any human conflict.
There are other historical theories that add some support to this fanciful place of death for all elephants, however, these are most likely, largely due to human interpretation rather than actual elephant fact or behaviour. For the most part, we would like to believe that there is an undiscovered place where elephants go to die, but for now, it lives only in our minds, fuelled in animation as the ‘Shadowy Place’ in Disney’s The Lion King.
Text – Neil Davison
Photographs – Neil Davison
- Personal observations by the author on Welgevonden Game Reserve and other Reserves in Southern Africa
- Beat about the Bush – Mammals, Trevor Carnaby, First Edition, Jacana, Johannesburg, 2007
- The Behaviour Guide to African Mammals, Richard Despard Estes, Russel Friedman Books CC, 1995