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Scientists stunned by disturbing discoveries during autopsies of dead camels: 'The most surreal thing in the world'

"All [camels] know in the desert [is] if it's not sand, it's food."

“All [camels] know in the desert [is] if it's not sand, it's food."

Photo Credit: iStock

Plastic pollution is an enormous global problem, and a lot of focus has been rightly placed on the devastating effects that plastic is having on our oceans and marine life. But plastic pollution on land is a big problem, too, as experts have recently been reminded when they started discovering giant blobs of the stuff inside the stomachs of dead camels.

What is happening?

California-based environmental scientist Marcus Eriksen and United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based veterinary microbiologist Ulrich Wernery co-authored an article titled "The plight of camels eating plastic waste." 

Eriksen described one autopsy as "the most surreal thing in the world," and their findings showed that plastic clumps called polybezoars, which Eriksen said "range from the size of a basketball to roughly a large suitcase," are responsible for 1% of the camel deaths in the UAE

"All [camels] know in the desert [is] if it's not sand, it's food," Eriksen said. "If they see a plastic bag stuck in a tree … or stuck against a fence, they might think, 'Oh, that's a novel piece of food,' and they'll consume it."

Why is this concerning?

The effects of eating plastic are devastating for the camels, causing intestinal blockages, creating lacerations inside their stomachs, and creating a toxic environment for bacteria to grow amid the folds of the plastic.

"It's a slow death," Eriksen said. "Imagine if you had five plastic bags crushed up in your body, and maybe a dozen bottle caps and a few straws, and it stayed there for years. I mean, you would suffer until you'd ultimately perish from that ingested trash. And that's what the camels are experiencing."

Camels are not the only land animals facing this challenge, either. A sick bear in Colorado was recently euthanized and found to have plastic waste blocking its digestive system. Plastic waste consumption also killed two elephants in Sri Lanka.

What can be done about it?

As plastic waste causes more and more animal deaths, there is some hope that public pressure will cause governments to regulate it more heavily. Canada banned single-use plastics in 2021, and other places, such as Massachusetts, have taken similar steps.

As far as steps we can take to reduce our plastic consumption in our regular lives, we can make sure we understand how to recycle as effectively as possible and shun single-use plastics by using things like reusable water bottles.

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