Photographer Tharmaplan Tilaxan said that for the elephants, "many things have changed, and their changed behavior will change our landscape"

By Benjamin VanHoose
October 01, 2020 12:52 PM
Tharmaplan Tilaxan/Cover Images

A herd of elephants were recently spotted foraging for meals in the middle of a trash dump in Sri Lanka.

Photographer Tharmaplan Tilaxan of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, captured a series of snapshots that document the large wild animals sifting through an open-area landfill located next to a nearby jungle.

Sharing the striking images with Cover Images, Tilaxan told the news service that the elephants "normally travel over 30 kilometers per day and seed up to 3,500 new trees a day," adding that for the elephants, "many things have changed, and their changed behavior will change our landscape."

Elephants eating plastics and other dangerous human garbage in landfills isn't a new occurrence.

Back in 2018, Asian elephant expert Jayantha Jayewardene told AFP that hundreds of Sri Lanka's 7,500 native elephants are believed to forage through waste, sickened by what they ingest in the process.

"Sri Lanka considers elephants to be a national treasure, but we see these animals reduced to eating rubbish," said Jayewardene at the time, adding about the issue of illegal dumping, "They have become docile and got so used to tractors bringing them garbage."

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"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," he added of some of the elephants who have become dependent on trash dumps for food.

Plastics and other toxic materials have been detected in the elephants' excrements in the area, worrying animal experts.

Tharmaplan Tilaxan/Cover Images

"Elephants are getting sick by eating plastics," said Jayewardene. "We don't, however, have post mortem evidence yet of polythene causing deaths, but this is a real concern."

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AFP reported in 2017 that the Sri Lankan government banned open-area dumping near animal sanctuaries, with officials saying in a statement at the time: "Around 300 wild elephants are hanging around [dumps]. When elephants consume bacteria-infested waste … it shortens their lifespan."

More than 50 dumping sites were ordered to put electric fences around their perimeters.

In August, officials banned the imports of plastic to Sri Lanka in an effort to protect their wild elephants and other animals, with the measures expected to be put in place within the next few months, according to AFP.

"Plastics are doing untold damage to our wildlife — elephants, deer and other animals," environment minister Mahinda Amaraweera said, per the outlet. "We need to take immediate action to arrest this situation."