Elephants die after eating plastic waste at landfill in Sri Lanka

By ACHALA PUSSALLA

January 14, 2022 GMT

PALLAKKADU, Sri Lanka (AP) — Conservationists and veterinarians are warning that plastic waste at an open dump in eastern Sri Lanka is killing elephants in the area, after two more were found dead over the weekend -end.

Around 20 elephants have died in the past eight years after consuming plastic waste at the garbage dump in Pallakkadu village in Ampara district, about 210 kilometers (130 miles) east of the capital, Colombo .

Examinations of the dead animals showed they had swallowed large amounts of non-degradable plastic found in the landfill, wildlife veterinarian Nihal Pushpakumara said.

“Polyethylene, food wrappers, plastic, other indigestibles and water were the only things we could see in the autopsies. The normal food that elephants eat and digest was not obvious,” he said.

Elephants are revered in Sri Lanka but are also endangered. Their numbers rose from around 14,000 in the 19th century to 6,000 in 2011, according to the country’s first elephant census.

They are increasingly vulnerable due to the loss and degradation of their natural habitat. Many venture closer to human settlements in search of food, and some are killed by poachers or farmers angry at damage to their crops.

Hungry elephants scavenge for trash in the landfill, consuming plastic as well as sharp objects that damage their digestive systems, Pushpakumara said.

“The elephants then stop eating and become too weak to hold their heavy frames upright. When this happens, they cannot consume food or water, which hastens their death,” he said.

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In 2017, the government announced that it would recycle rubbish in landfills near wildlife areas to prevent elephants from consuming plastic waste. He also said electric fences would be erected around the sites to keep animals away. But neither has been fully implemented.

There are 54 landfills in wildlife areas across the country, with around 300 elephants roaming nearby, officials say.

The Pallakkadu Village Waste Management Site was set up in 2008 with the help of the European Union. Garbage collected from nine neighboring villages is dumped there but is not recycled.

In 2014, the electric fence protecting the site was struck by lightning and authorities never repaired it, allowing elephants to enter and rummage through the landfill. Locals say the elephants have come closer and taken up residence near the waste pit, sparking fear among nearby villagers.

Many use firecrackers to chase animals away as they roam the village, and some have erected electric fences around their homes.

But villagers often don’t know how to install the electric fences so they are safe and “could endanger their own lives as well as those of the elephants”, said Keerthi Ranasinghe, a local village councillor.

“Even though we call them a threat, wild elephants are also a resource. The authorities must find a way to protect both human lives and elephants that also allow us to continue our agricultural activities,” he said.

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