Hungry elephants are eating plastic at garbage dumps in Sri Lanka

Wild elephants at a garbage landfill in Sri Lanka, photo: Reuters/Stringer
Wild elephants at a garbage landfill in Sri Lanka, photo: Reuters/Stringer

Sri Lanka’s government said Monday that it is digging ditches and putting up electric fences around open garbage dumps to stop elephants from eating plastic trash.

Dozens of elephants walk out of the forest daily into a garbage dump near the town of Ampara, searching through rubbish for vegetable scraps.

Autopsies have shown large quantities of plastic in the stomachs of elephants who died in agony after ‘eating’ at dumps.

The Department of Wildlife Conservation said elephants are eating garbage at nine dumps. “Initial work has already begun at two dumps in the Ampara district, and we hope to complete the work by early next year,” the department said.

The elephants consume plastic along with the food scraps, which slowly kills them, officials say. In 2019, a record 361 elephants died mainly because of humans, local environmental groups reported.

Authorities announced legislation to ban the import of most plastic products in August. A separate ban on single-use plastics comes into effect from January.

There are only around 7000 elephants left in Sri Lanka. In recent years, they’ve been murdered by farmers who try to keep them off their land.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has given wildlife officials until mid-2022 to implement a plan to reduce human-elephant conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 600 elephants and nearly 200 people in the past two years. 

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