Conservationists and veterinarians are warning that plastic waste in an open landfill in eastern Sri Lanka is killing elephants in the region, after two more were found dead over the weekend. Around 20 elephants have died in the past eight years after consuming plastic trash in the dump in Pallakkadu village in Ampara district, about 130 miles east of the capital, Colombo, the AP reports. Examinations of the dead animals showed they had swallowed large amounts of nondegradable plastic that is found in the garbage dump, wildlife veterinarian Nihal Pushpakumara said.
"Polythene, food wrappers, plastic, other non-digestibles, and water were the only things we could see in the post-mortems. The normal food that elephants eat and digest was not evident," he said. Elephants are revered in Sri Lanka but are also endangered. Their numbers have dwindled from about 14,000 in the 19th century to 6,000 in 2011, according to the country's first elephant census. They are increasingly vulnerable because of 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.
Hungry elephants seek out the waste 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 frames upright. When that happens, they can't consume food or water, which quickens their death," he said. In 2017, the government announced that it will recycle the garbage in dumps near wildlife zones to prevent elephants from consuming plastic waste. It also said electric fences would be erected around the sites to keep the animals away. But neither has been fully implemented.