Veterinarians and environmentalists warn that plastic waste at an open-air landfill in eastern Sri Lanka is killing elephants in the region, after two more dead animals were found over the weekend.
Close to 20 elephants have died in the last eight years after consuming plastic waste at the landfill in the village of Pallakkadu, in the district of Ampara, 210 km east of the capital, Colombo.
Examinations of the dead animals showed they swallowed large amounts of non-degradable plastic found in the dump, according to wildlife veterinarian Nihal Pushpakumara.
“Polyethylene, food packaging, plastic and water were the only things we could see in the autopsies. The normal food that elephants eat and digest was not evident,” he said.
The number of elephants decreased from 14,000 in the 19th century to 6,000 in 2011, according to the country’s first census of these animals.
Elephants are increasingly vulnerable due to the loss and degradation of their natural habitat.
Many venture to localities in search of food and some are killed by poachers or farmers furious at the damage to their crops.
“Hungry elephants forage for garbage at the landfill, consuming plastic and sharp objects that damage their digestive systems,” said Pushpakumara.
In 2017, the government announced that it would recycle waste near wildlife areas to prevent elephants from consuming plastic waste.
The Government also announced that electric fences would be placed around the sites to keep animals away, but none of the measures was fully implemented.
“There are 54 landfills in wildlife zones across the country, with around 300 elephants nearby,” officials said.