The landfill is located just outside a wildlife zone. The elephants inadvertently end up ingesting hazardous plastic while looking for vegetable scraps that could be detrimental to their health
In an unsettling series of pictures, a herd of elephants was seen rummaging through a large trash dump for food in Sri Lanka. The photos, captured by Jaffna-based photographer Tharmapalan Tilaxan, show a herd of 25-30 elephants towering over a landfill in Oluvil, Ampara, in the eastern province located just outside a wildlife zone. According to the Daily Mail, the gentle giants scour the dump for vegetable scraps but accidentally end up ingesting hazardous plastic and non-digestive polythene into their systems, which poses a risk for their health. "In the eastern province, a herd of wild elephants has picked up a peculiar and sad habit," Tilaxan told the outlet. "Since of late, these elephants have been seen foraging for food in garbage dumps."
The site receives waste from districts including Sammanthurai, Kalmunai, Karaitheevu, Ninthavur, Addalachchenai, Akkaraipattu, and Alaiyadi Vembu. The rising quantity of waste generation has caused the dump to slowly encroach the adjacent forests, and unfortunately, become accessible to elephants. This is a persistent problem for wildlife officials according to Asian elephant expert Jayanta Jayawardene. According to PEOPLE, Jayawardene, told AFP, in 2018: "Sri Lanka considers elephants to be a national treasure, but we see these animals reduced to eating rubbish. They have become docile and got so used to tractors bringing them garbage. These elephants no longer forage in the jungle. They are like zoo animals. It is a sad sight to see national treasures picking through rotting rubbish."
As a solution, the environment ministry of Sri Lanka had erected electric fences to deter the elephants from entering the open dump yard. However, due to a lack of upkeep, they have now broken down completely. "There is no proper plan or a system for this," P.H. Kumara, part of the Gal Oya Farmers Committee, in Ampara, told ABC. "Government institutions have established landfills on the border of wildlife protection zones. Once that is done, the wild elephants and other wild animals who eat the rubbish die." While consuming microplastics harms the animals in the long term, they are also facing grave danger in the shorter term. "The wild elephants that come to the landfill hang around here day and night," Kumara added, explaining what the animals get up to after arriving at the dumpsite. "Then they go into neighboring villages and harm the villagers, their property, and agricultural land. The end result is that the human-elephant conflict gets worse and we lose elephants that are a national asset."
Sri Lanka has recorded the highest annual elephant deaths and second-highest human deaths in the world due to the human-elephant conflict.@NatGeo @Saveelephant @BBCEarth@natgeowild @elephantjournal pic.twitter.com/8uof42k1yJ— Tharmapalan Tilaxan (@tilaxan_t) December 14, 2020
As per a JakartaPost report, as many as 600 elephants and 200 people have died in the last two years alone due to the conflict. This is only adding to the dwindling population of elephants in the country which have already fallen from 12,000 in the 1900s to less than 7,000 in recent years. Currently, the Department of Wildlife Conservation has been fighting a multi-pronged battle in conjunction with the government to protect the animals after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa gave wildlife officials until mid-2022 to implement a plan to reduce human-elephant conflict. On that front, the department has started work on digging 1.8m (6 feet) trenches along the dumpsite to deter the animals while the lawmakers are bringing in legislation announcing a ban on single-use plastic this month. "Initial work has already begun at two dumps in the Ampara district and we hope to complete the work by early next year," the Wildlife department said.