Plastic waste poses a serious threat to India’s wild elephants

The high presence of plastic in elephant dung highlights its widespread use near protected habitats and the lack of waste sorting practices.

Photo: Pixabay/wal_172619

Asian elephants weigh up to 4 tons and spend most of their time in the wild foraging. They consume up to 170 kg of vegetation each day, but increasingly they also swallow plastic objects with discarded food that they find in garbage heaps and elsewhere.

The amount of plastic waste wild elephants accidentally consume has been revealed by a team of Indian researchers who found what they call the ‘presence of anthropogenic waste’ in a third of the dung samples they collected from nearby and inside some forests. areas where wild elephants roam.

The plastic particles ranged in size from 1 millimeter to 355 mm and twice as many plastic particles were found in samples taken from inside the forests as from its edges, indicating that plastic pollution has indeed reached natural habitats. pachyderms.

In Kotdwar, a region of the northern state of Uttarakhand, discarded plastic items accounted for 85% of human-made waste in elephant dung, with most items ingested and then excreted being plastic food containers and cutlery as well as plastic bags and packaging. Pieces of glass, rubber, fabric and other trash have also been found in elephant droppings.

“The high presence of plastic in elephant dung highlights its widespread use near protected habitats and the lack of waste sorting practices underscoring the vulnerability of wild animals to the risks of plastic ingestion,” warn the authorities. Indian scientists in their study.

The results of this research conducted in India are consistent with what is known about the threats plastic litter poses to Asian elephants elsewhere in their range. In Thailand, for example, several jumbos have fallen ill or died after ingesting plastic waste in protected areas.

In 2020, a 20-year-old male elephant weighing around 3.5 tonnes was found dead in Khao Khitchakut National Park in central Thailand, with a subsequent autopsy revealing that plastic bags and other objects had caused a blockage and infection in his intestines. Experts say the jumbo likely swallowed plastic waste left behind by visitors to the protected nature reserve.

“How many wild animals have to die to raise some people’s consciousness? Varawut Silpa-archa, Thailand’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, asked.

“People are still deaf to our [no littering] country. We have seen the loss of other animals caused by the plastic bags, the last case being the poor wild jumbo”, lamented the minister, calling on the inhabitants to “help us by leaving no plastic waste inside the park. “.

Indian scientists agree, pointing out that “developing a comprehensive solid waste management strategy to mitigate the threat of plastic pollution around critical elephant habitats” can go a long way in reducing the risks that plastic waste causes. to elephants and other wild animals.

Local people can also do their part by separating food waste from containers so elephants rooting in landfills for food don’t accidentally swallow these plastic items, they say.

Bryce K. Locke