Herd of wild Sri Lankan elephants have begun eating plastic rubbish dumped near habitat
Posted on October 2nd, 2020

Verity Bowman Courtesy The Telegraph

Elephants foraging for food on a refuse facility - Tharmaplan Tilaxan/Cover Images
Elephants foraging for food on a refuse facility – Tharmaplan Tilaxan/Cover Images

Dozens of elephants have begun foraging for food at a dump nestled in a Sri Lankan jungle after it encroached on their habitat.

Photographs captured in the eastern Ampara district show the wild herd, which numbers almost 40, searching through mounds of plastic bags, which have since been discovered undigested in their excrement.

Microplastics and non-digestive polythene were also found in the elephants’ stomachs during postmortem examinations. Such waste poses a serious threat to the health of the herd.

It is thought the elephants gained access to the dump through a broken fence, although according to photographer Tharmapalan Tilaxan the garbage is now strewn through the surrounding forest.

He described the phenomenon as a destructive and unhealthy habit” and warned that no action had been taken to prevent the elephants entering the area in search of food. 

Postmortems have shown the elephants have plastic products in their stomachs - Tharmaplan Tilaxan/Cover Images
Postmortems have shown the elephants have plastic products in their stomachs – Tharmaplan Tilaxan/Cover Images

The herd of elephants are now so accustomed to feeding in the area that they have begun crossing into neighbouring villages and paddy fields, adding to existing tensions between them and the locals. 

For elephants, ingesting plastic can have devastating consequences. 

Microplastics can block digestive tracts, alter feeding behaviour and diminish the urge to eat. Each of these factors can impact on the herd’s ability to reproduce and damage population numbers.

With their stomachs stuffed with plastic bags, herds often die of starvation. 

The herd, which numbers just under 40, has turned to rooting through the rubbish dump - Tharmaplan Tilaxan/Cover Images
The herd, which numbers just under 40, has turned to rooting through the rubbish dump – Tharmaplan Tilaxan/Cover Images

In 2019, Sri Lanka saw the highest number of elephant deaths since records began in 1948, according to environmental activists. 

Around 361 died in Sri Lanka that year, with 85 per cent of these deaths caused by human activity, the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform said. 

It is thought the country has a wild elephant population of around 7,500. 

Sri Lanka is ranked as the world’s fifth largest producer of plastic waste, with more than 50m kilograms of plastic wasted per day. 

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