It is not as if any more proof was needed that plastic waste is a clear and present danger to wild animals large and small, but here it comes: a wild elephant has died in Thailand after ingesting large amounts of plastic litter.
A male elephant weighing about 3.5 tons and aged around 20, was found dead in the Khao Khitchakut National Park in central Thailand and a subsequent autopsy revealed the cause of death to have been plastic bags and other items that caused a blockage and infection in the pachyderm’s intestines.
“How many wild animals need to die in order to raise the conscience of some people?” Varawut Silpa-archa, the country’s minister of Natural Resources and Environment, lamented in a Facebook post.
Likely the jumbo unwittingly swallowed plastic trash left behind by visitors to the protected nature reserve. “People are still being deaf to our campaign,” the minister said. “We have found the loss of other animals caused by the plastic bags, with the latest case of the poor wild jumbo.”
He called on locals to “help us by not leaving any plastic waste inside the park.”
Until recently Thailand’s nearly 70 million citizens produced some 3.75 billion plastic bags a month as waste since plastic bags were handed out liberally in shops and stores with every purchase. A campaign launched this past January to reduce that colossal sum has led to some positive results, yet the Southeast Asian nation is still a leading producer of plastic waste in the world.
Much of that waste, left uncollected and unrecycled, enters into the sea. Thailand was the world’s sixth biggest contributor of plastic waste to the oceans last year. Over the past decade the country has generated 2 million tons of plastic waste a year on average.
The impacts of all that waste on Thailand’s wildlife and marine creatures have been grave. Last year a young orphaned dugong, a member of a critically endangered species, was found dead in local waters. The female animal had died after accidentally ingesting plastic waste. The death of the female dugong, whose plight captured nationwide attention, shocked Thais.
“It is very sad that she died after going into shock due to the obstruction in her intestine generated by plastic fragments. They caused inflammation leading to fully building-up gas in the digestive system,” Nantarika Chansue, a local veterinarian, observed.
Yet Thailand is hardly alone in producing vast amounts of plastic waste. Several other Southeast Asian nations are among the worst plastic polluters, which together with China are responsible for most marine plastic waste. China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam together produce half of all the planet’s plastic waste that winds up in the oceans.
“Southeast Asia is a primary source and victim of plastic, where it is choking seas and threatening ecosystems and livelihoods,” says Kakuko Nagatani-Yoshida, the United Nations Development Agency’s regional coordinator for chemicals and waste. “If we want to solve the marine litter problem globally, we have to solve it in this region.”
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