Tangled food: forest animals near villages ‘gulp’

Plastic has found its way into the stomachs of numerous animals — from street-dwelling stray cattle to elephants in forests. More recently, wildlife biologists discovered carry bags and packets of gutka, chips and biscuits in elephant dung in northern Bengal.

However, some animals, including carnivores and ruminants such as deer, run a higher risk of consuming plastics because they are ‘gulpers’, lacking “dexterous hand or mouthparts, and consequently not able to separate food from plastic and other indigestible matter”, write the authors of a study published recently in Current Science.

Scientists at Dehradun’s Nature Science Initiative observed various animals that visited two garbage dumps along a forest edge in Uttarakhand’s Nainital. Over two months in 2015, the team, including the study’s lead author Gitanjali Katlam, observed the species and numbers of animals that visited the dumps during the day. At night, activity at the dumps was captured on camera traps.

Peck, sift or tear

The team classified the animals based on their feeding strategies to see if the differences in this behaviour put certain animals more at risk of consuming plastic. ‘Peckers’ included birds that could pull out food from other inedible waste, ‘handlers’ were dexterous-fingered animals such as rhesus macaques which could separate food material, and ‘gulpers’ were unable to sift out plastic. To see how these animals processed unsegregated garbage at one of the dumps, the team tied up a measured portion of the waste in a bag (mimicking one of the ways that garbage is disposed at the site) and monitored open patches of waste (where they mixed similar amounts of food and plastic waste available at the dump).In half of the instances, animals tore open bags with waste while trying to feed. ‘Handlers’ and ‘peckers’ encountered plastic more than twice as frequently as ‘gulpers’. But the ‘gulpers’ — sambar deer and carnivores such as red foxes, which could not extract food efficiently from bags — spent more time foraging at dumps and were more likely to tear open polythene bags.....Read more


Source web page: The Hindu

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