Some Asian elephants don't like to talk about their eating habits. They sneak into dumps near human settlements at the edges of their forest habitats and quickly dispose of garbage. Elephants are transporting plastic and other human garbage deep into forests in parts of India.
When they defecate, the plastic comes out of the dung and gets deposited in the forest.
While a lot of research has been done on the spread of plastic pollution into the world's oceans and seas, less is known about how it moves with wildlife on land. According to research published this month in the Journal for Nature Conservancy, the same process that keeps the environment functioning may carry pollutants into national parks and other wild areas. The health of elephants and other large mammals that have eaten the plastic could be in danger.
Elephants are feeding on garbage on trail cameras. She was looking at which animals went to the garbage dumps. She and her colleagues noticed plastic in the dung of elephants. The Nature Science Initiative is a nonprofit focused on ecological research in northern India.
The researchers found plastic in the forest and village dumps. The elephants probably carried the plastic much farther than the mile or two they walked into the forest. Asian elephants can walk up to 12 miles in a day. This is concerning because the town is close to a national park.
"This adds evidence to the fact that plastic pollution is ubiquitous, and that the effects of plastic on land ecosystems are not limited to Argentina," said the researcher, who was not involved in the research. She says the study is necessary as it could be one of the first reports of a large land animal eating plastic.
The elephant dung had plastic in it. The majority of this came from food containers and utensils. Glass, rubber, fabric and other waste were also found by the researchers. The elephants are likely to have been looking for containers and plastic bags because they still have food inside, according to Dr. Katlam. The utensils were eaten.
The elephants may be consuming chemicals that are in the trash. Dr. Katlam is concerned that the substances may contribute to declines in elephant population numbers and survival rates.
Carolina Monmany Garzia, who works with a doctor in Argentina, said that other animals may get filled with plastic and cause mechanical damage.
Other animals may consume the plastic again once it is transported into the forest.
Dr. Katlam said that India's governments should take steps to manage their solid waste. If people separated their food waste from the containers, plastic wouldn't end up getting eaten so much.
She said that this is a very important step.
Dr. Mealizia said that we need to understand how the use of plastic is affecting the environment.