By ACHALA PUSSALLA
PALLAKKADU, Sri Lanka (AP) – Environmentalists and veterinarians warn plastic waste in an open dump in eastern Sri Lanka is killing elephants in the region, after two more were found dead over the week -end.
About 20 elephants have died over the past eight years after consuming plastic waste at the landfill in Pallakkadu village in Ampara district, about 210 kilometers (130 miles) east of the capital, Colombo .
Examination of the dead animals showed that they had swallowed large amounts of non-degradable plastic found in the landfill, said wildlife veterinarian Nihal Pushpakumara.
“Polyethylene, food packaging, plastic, other indigestible products 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 increased 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 over damage to their crops.
The hungry elephants hunt 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 keep their heavy frame upright. When this happens, they cannot consume food or water, which accelerates their death, ”he said.
In 2017, the government announced it would recycle garbage 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 in 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 fixed it, allowing elephants to enter and search the landfill. Locals say the elephants have come closer and settled near the garbage pit, sparking fear among neighboring villagers.
Many use firecrackers to hunt animals when they roam the village, and some have erected electric fences around their homes.
But the villagers often do not know how to install the electric fences, so they are safe and “could put their own life as well as that of the elephants in danger,” said Keerthi Ranasinghe, a local village counselor.
“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 allows us to continue our agricultural activities, ”he said.