By Taniya Dutta
A heartbreaking footage emerged from Sri Lanka shows the moment a herd of wild elephants painfully rummaging through a mound of garbage in search of rotting food.
The video filmed in a drone camera by Wasantha Chandrapala, a freelance reporter in Amapara in eastern province of the island nation, highlights the pitiable condition of the animals that are forced to raid landfills on a daily basis to fill their hungry stomach.
The distressing video shot on early Tuesday morning, begins with fifteen elephants including three young ones rushing towards a landfill littered with thousands of plastic waste outside a resident area in Deegawapiya.
They run hurriedly after getting hold of whatever waste they could in their trunk in fear of angry humans coming in.
Explaining the terrible moment, Wasantha, 45, said: “This is a daily routine in this area. The dwellers from Akkaraipattu, Sammanthurai dump their rubbish in the hill top at night and elephants from nearby jungle Kalmunai Dhigavapi come every morning to scavenge food.
“It is truly heartbreaking to see the animals eating plastic and toxic chemical waste. This causes serious health issues in the animals who also fall sick. Some have even died.”
So far six elephants have died due to intaking toxics in Ampara.
While the elephants have never attacked any villager, their regular visit through fields are damaging the crop. The issue has certainly become a matter of concern for the dwellers who have been asking the wildlife officials why the proper measures are not been taken and why the fencing of the dump is still pending.
Veterinary surgeon Dr. Nihal Pushpakumara from the Department of Wildlife Conservation, Ampara said: “The elephant’s which died here had stomach full of polythene. This happens due to the lack of proper maintenance from the municipality. Now because of public outrage steps have been taken to construct and put a permanent elephant fencing.
“The trash collection centre established in Deegawapiya area in Ampara is not properly fenced and maintained, due to the poor maintenance elephants come along everyday and eating the rotten food in this place, which is mixed with polyethylene and other chemical garbage dumps.
The elephants are not only eating these food but it also harming the villagers and the cultivation lands, the villagers say at the dawn of the night people are unable to come out of the house for an urgent need as they are scared of the elephants.”
In May last year, the authorities in Sri Lanka had banned the open dumping of garbage near wildlife sanctuaries to discourage elephants from foraging for rotting food scraps and risking their lives.
As an immediate measure, the cabinet ordered that electric fences be erected around more than 50 dumps near elephant habitats to keep the roaming beasts away.
“Around 300 wild elephants are hanging around dumps. When elephants consume bacteria-infested waste… it shortens their lifespan,” the government had said in a statement.
The government said local authorities would be banned from dumping solid waste in the open, and would be required to establish recycling plants and use hygienic methods of waste disposal.
Elephants are revered in Buddhism, the majority religion in Sri Lanka, and are protected by law.
The wild elephant population in Sri Lanka is estimated at about 7 500, with another 200 domestic beast.