Garbage and Wildlife

It is a common sight in the city to spot a huge number of birds, cats, dogs, rats, etc., around a garbage pile. It has become so common that we are now immune to seeing such scenes. But now imagine you are trekking in a pristine location where you are surrounded by snow-capped peaks and lush forests. And here you come across a pile of garbage, and see wildlife thriving! How does that make you feel?

Image:  A Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler foraging around a pile of trash which was behind small shops in Bhiri, Uttarakhand.

In a country like India which is densely populated and where land is limited, there is more and more need to create spaces for the wild fauna and flora. While there are examples of peaceful coexistence, one also needs to wonder if these shared spaces we have now are truly inclusive in accommodating the hundreds of species of birds and animals we share this limited space with.

During our treks and hikes in Uttarakhand, Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, it was not uncommon to see garbage piles near settlements. It is an inevitable by-product of human activities. In smaller towns, the situation of garbage is worse since the number of tourists and human settlements are higher and denser.

Image: Enroute to Bhitarkanika, Odisha- this road side dhaba that catered to tourists had this dump-yard right behind it. It was filled with thermocol plates and plastic spoons.

A recent study in India studied patterns of animal and bird visitation and foraging behaviour at garbage dumps in Uttarakhand, during peak tourist season. Their study emphasized the urgent requirement of a waste segregation system and more awareness amongst both locals and tourists. Past studies have already highlighted that garbage dumping sites have health implications on wildlife. There have been numerous documentations of finding plastics in the faecal matter of wild animals. In fact, just last month (June 2022), scientists reported finding glass and plastic in elephant dung!

Image: The endangered Lion-tailed Macaque foraging near garbage pile, in Valparai, Tamil Nadu.

Ingestion of plastic by wildlife can cause toxicological issues, lead to damage of digestive tract, disrupt reproductive patterns, affect fitness and growth etc. What is worse is that some researchers argue that an ecological shift is happening where few species in some areas become more dependent on anthropological food waste (Geetanjali Katlam quoted in Down To Earth).

Image: Large Grey Babbler, Rajasthan.

As tourists, we really need to be mindful of the trash we leave in places we travel to. Local governments also need to rethink how to manage waste in their areas particularly if they attract a huge number of tourists. We also need to understand that leaving trash in pristine habitats is not only a threat to wildlife but it has other environmental implications which may not be within our field of vision.

Image: An eye sore in the Ladakh landscapes.

So what can we do?

When you are out there in a pristine location, make sure that you do not leave back the trash that you produced. Carry it with you! Carry it and dispose it in the right way in a designated garbage site of a human settlement, preferably a city. Ideally, even that is not the best solution. But it is a small step in the right direction. The generation of trash is inevitable of course, but the process of planning your trip well with an aim to minimize that trash is something that you must think about.

Education and Awareness

Earthly Notes View All →

My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.

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