Emerging Threat: Open Garbage Dumps to Endanger Asian Elephants in Uttarakhand

Garbage not only poses a threat to human health but also affects the well-being of wildlife populations.

Sushmita Somwanshi

This article focuses on the concerning discovery of Asian elephants feeding at garbage dumps in the Shivalik Elephant Reserve in Uttarakhand State, India. It sheds light on the adverse impacts of garbage on elephants and emphasizes the need for proper waste management practices and environmental awareness.

Garbage and its Impact on Wildlife:

Dumped garbage, particularly non-degradable waste or waste containing harmful chemicals, can have severe negative consequences on vegetation regeneration, groundwater reservoirs, and the behavior of wildlife, even within protected areas. Inappropriate waste management practices, such as landfilling or waste combustion, coupled with low environmental awareness, pose significant threats to protected areas in Asia. In recent years, there have been reports of wild animals venturing towards garbage dumps on the outskirts of their habitats, including elephants. Such garbage is unknowingly dumped by tourists or roadside by people. Those garbage attract elephants and cause threat to their life. It is observed that animal are shifting their food habits too. across Haridwar and Ramnagar forest divisions in the state of Uttarakhand, India it is found that elephants were feeding on the garbage dumps.

Case Study-1: Shyampur Forest in Haridwar Forest Division:

During the year 2007, in the Shyampur Forest Range of the Haridwar Forest Division, a bull elephant was observed feeding on a garbage dump consisting of both biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste. The dumping site, used for land filling, contained leftover food, floral remains, and waste from tourists, hospitals, and industries. Since the garbage contained leftover food and the remains of flowers and leaves, the elephants were found attracted towards the dump. This garbage not only negatively affects the environment but also exposes wild animals, including elephants, to unpredictable threats.

Case Study-2: Kosi Forest in Ramnagar Forest Division:

During the year of 2017,In the Kosi Forest Range of the Ramnagar Forest Division, pieces of plastic bags were found in the dung piles of an elephant.  Although no permanent garbage dumping site was found nearby, it was assumed that the elephants consumed plastic bags from garbage thrown by pilgrims at Sitabani Temple or from the nearby Chhoi Village. These observations highlight the role of anthropogenic waste in endangering wildlife. Every year, thousands of visitors and local people visit the temple, and the garbage from human activities, as well as the remains of the offerings and plastic bags, are dispersed around the area. 

Implications and Recommendations:

Improper waste management can lead to irreversible environmental, economic, and social impacts. Wildlife may be exposed to pathogen infections, poisoning, and ingestion of foreign bodies. Feeding on garbage can alter the movement patterns, migration, home range size, and behavior of elephants and other species. Instances of elephant deaths linked to garbage consumption have been reported, emphasizing the urgency to address this issue.

To mitigate the impact of garbage on wildlife and ecosystems, the following actions are recommended:

Proper waste disposal: Develop a comprehensive plan for dumping and disposing of garbage in protected areas, ensuring it is carried out away from wildlife habitats and corridors.

Public awareness: Sensitize local communities, stakeholders, and tourists about effective waste management practices and the importance of species in maintaining the ecosystem and biodiversity.

Ecotourism guidelines: Implement guidelines that prohibit the burning or disposal of non-biodegradable waste within protected areas or their surrounding eco-sensitive zones or buffer areas.

Stakeholder involvement: Encourage local community participation in conservation initiatives and habitat monitoring to foster effective management and conservation strategies.

In conclusion, the feeding of elephants on garbage dumps in the Shivalik Elephant Reserve underscores the detrimental effects of improper waste management on wildlife populations. By adopting appropriate waste disposal practices, raising public awareness, and actively involving stakeholders, we can minimize the risks posed by garbage to elephants and other species, preserving the integrity of ecosystems and ensuring a sustainable future for wildlife.

Kanchan P., Ritesh J. & Vaibhav Singh. (2020). Open garbage dumps near protected areas in Uttarakhand: an emerging threat to Asian Elephants in the Shivalik Elephant Reserve. Journal of Threatened Taxa,12 (11) ,16571–16575 . Retrieved from https://threatenedtaxa.org/index.php/JoTT/article/view/4392