It is a sorry sight. The elephants themselves don’t appear distressed but seeing them rummaging around a pit of household waste is sad and undignified. The herd has been coming to feed at the Oluvil landfill site for the past few years, drawn to the dump due to a deterioration in their national habitat.
The forest in which they dwell surrounds the rubbish tip but it has gradually diminished in size and sustenance due to local land development, and the expansion of the landfill site itself. Household waste from several districts is taken to Oluvil and while morsels of food can be found, the elephants are foraging through piles of plastic packaging and carrier bags.
Their strong scavenging senses do enable them to be selective in their search but their size means they consume a vast amount and much of that ends up being plastic. The hazardous material can end up twisted around their large intestine with fatal consequences. It is a painful death and a number of the elephants in the Oluvil herd have died this way.
A fence erected to try to keep the elephants out was no match for them and their desperate hunger.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has made the loss of elephant habitats the focus of their Christmas campaign this year.
An advert running on British television hopes to raise awareness of the threat being posed to an already endangered species. In Sri Lanka it is human and infrastructure development which have encroached on the elephants' natural environment, forcing them into this unsafe and most unsavoury eating pattern.
Plastics have now joined poaching as one of the greatest threats facing the world’s largest land mammal.
Elephants suffering the cost of human greed and growth.
Watch the WWF's Christmas campaign video