Sabyasachi Patra

Impact of Plastics on wild animals

Impact of Plastics on wild animals

Plastics are not only harming humans and degrading the environment, but there is a big impact of plastics on wild animals.  I would like to share the following account about one such incident.

Elephant Swallows Polythene Bag

I was trekking on the outskirts of Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in July 2008 and came across elephant dung about few hundred meters from the Segur road, a prime elephant migratory corridor. The elephant dung contained polythene bags. The elephant had eaten the polythene bag along with some other garbage and the polythene had come out undigested with the dung, but torn into smaller scraps. Probably, it was swallowed by an adult elephant and somehow, it didn’t die due to the undigested polythene. However, a smaller elephant or smaller herbivores like deer, sambar, barking deer, wild boar etc would have definitely died if they would have swallowed a polythene bag.

Elephant swallows plastic bag

Plastic bag in elephant dung

 
The usage of polythene bags and other materials which are not biodegradable has increased phenomenaly. When I look back at my childhood days, I realize that a big change between today and our child hood days was the way we used to buy groceries. I still remember, going to the shop with a cloth bag and carrying the groceries packed in paper bags. Today, the paper bags have given way to the polythene bags.
 
The polythene bags have scored over the paper bags due to the ease of use and higher carrying capacity. However, we have been oblivious to the deleterious effect of the polythene bags on the environment.
 
A number of reports have blamed polythene bags as the cause of choked drains and sewage systems in urban areas. These reports were highlighted when Bombay was waterlogged due to heavy rains in 2005. However, public memory being short, we have forgotten this issue.
 
There have been reports of cows, goats and other herbivores choking to death when they unwittingly consume polythene bags along with paper and other garbage. Unfortunately, polythene doesn’t decay even after several decades in a landfill.
 
The launch of the Golden Quadrilateral by the then Prime Minister of India Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, propelled roadbuilding as a primary mode of infrastructure creation and the quality of roads in India has vastly improved. This has given rise to more and more tourists driving to destinations. And the tourists have brought along their bad habits of throwing garbage at any point on the road. Most of our highways cut across our wildlife sanctuaries and National parks. And today, you can see lot of garbage along the roads passing through our wilderness. If herbivores in the cities are choking to death due to undigested polythene in their stomach, can our Deer, Sambar and other wild herbivores remain unaffected? People speculate about the impact of polythene bags consumed by the unwary herbivores in our wildlife sanctuaries and National parks; however no study has been conducted till date.
 
I hope that people reading this incident would take steps to sensitise others about the impact of polythene and would take steps to use alternate biodegradable packaging material like jute, paper bags etc.
 
You can take action:
  • You can send this link to people to educate them about the huge impact of polythene. Ask people to use biodegradable material and adopt safe disposal practices for their trash.
  • You can stop using polythene. When you go to the grocery shop, carry your own bags with you. Ask the grocery store not to give you polythene bags.
  • You can ask the authorities to set up waste bins and ensure trash regular collection. 
  • At the moment few hillstations like Nainital have banned polythene bags. We can campaign to make more and more cities, especially places around our forests, rivers, lakes no polythene zones. 

Spreading this message will help in stopping the ever increasing usage of non biodegradable materials like polythene. Let us all work towards a better tomorrow.

I look forward to your comments and actions on the ‘Impact of Plastics on Wild Animals‘. Let me know when you take any action. I will highlight it here so that others can get inspired.

Sabyasachi Patra

Sabyasachi is an award winning DoP/Cinematographer, passionate wildlife filmmaker and photographer. He has been striving to make his films and photographs full of life and emotion and write articles to educate and evangelise the need for conserving the last tracts of vanishing wilderness and wildlife in our country. He hopes that his wildlife films, photographs and writings force people to pause, look, ponder and ultimately take action.
His documentary film ‘A Call in the Rainforest’ has been screened at various national and international film festivals.

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