Dangerous Menus

Some elephants are getting too much plastic in their diets.

Some Asian elephants are shy about their eating habits. They sneak into dumps near human settlements at the edges of their forest habitats and gobble garbage - plastic utensils, packaging and all. 

But their guilty pleasure for fast food is traveling them - elephants are transporting plastic and other human garbage deep into forests in India.

''When they defecate, the plastic comes out of the dung and gets deposited in the forest, said Gitanjali Katlam, an ecological researcher in India.

A lot of research has been conducted on the spread of plastics from human pollution into the world's oceans  and seas, but considerably less is known about how such waste moves with wildlife on land.

But elephants are important seed dispersers, and new research shows that the same process that keeps ecosystems functioning might carry human-made pollutants into national parks and other wild areas.

This plastic could have negative effects on the health of elephants and other species that have consumed the material  once it has passed through the mammals' digestive systems.

Dr. Katlam first noticed elephants feeding on garbage on trail cameras while she was working on her  Ph.D at Jawaharlal Nehru University. She had been studying which animals visited garbage dumps near the edge of a village in northern India.

At the time, she also noticed plastic in the elephants' dung. [ Joshua Rapp Learn ]


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