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Plastic waste forms huge deadly masses in camel casings


Marcus Eriksen was studying plastic contamination in the Arabian Gulf when he met camel expert Ulrich Wernery. "(Ulrich) said," Do you want to see plastic? Come with me. ‘Then we went deep into the desert,’ Eriksen recalls. Soon they saw a camel skeleton and began digging between sand and bones.

"We dug up this plastic mass and it just scared me. I couldn't believe that, I almost didn't believe it, a mass as big as a medium-sized suitcase, all the plastic bags, could be inside the trunk of this corpse (camel)." , says Eriksen, an environmental scientist at the 5 Gyres Institute, a research and education organization on plastic pollution in Santa Monica, California.

Eriksen says (SN: 6/6/19) “We have heard of marine mammals, sea lions, whales, turtles and seabirds affected” by plastic waste. But “this is not just an ocean problem. It is also a land issue. It's everywhere. "

About 390,000 dromedary camels (Camelus dromedarius) live in the United Arab Emirates. Now, in a study published in the February 2021 Journal of Arid Environments, Eriksen, Wernery, and colleagues estimate that plastic kills about 1 percent of these animals of cultural importance.

Of the 30,000 dead camels that Wernery, a veterinary microbiologist at Dubai Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, and his team examined since 2008, 300 had plastic-wrapped casings ranging from three to 64 kilograms. Researchers have dubbed these plastic masses as “polybezoars” to distinguish them from bezoars of natural hair and plant fiber.

When camels eat plastic, it builds up in huge masses that clog the stomach called polybezoars. Researchers found these polybezaries, the largest of which weighs nearly 64 kilograms, inside dead camels in the desert near Dubai.M. Eriksen et al / J. Arid Enviro. 2021

polybezoares of dead camelsWhen camels eat plastic, it builds up in huge masses that clog the stomach called polybezoars. Researchers found these polybezaries, the largest of which weighs nearly 64 kilograms, inside dead camels in the desert near Dubai.M. Eriksen et al / J. Arid Enviro. 2021

As dromedaries roam the desert looking for food, they bite into plastic bags and other trash that end up in the trees and pile up on the sidewalks. “From the camel’s perspective … if it’s not sand, it’s food,” Eriksen says.

With a stomach full of plastic, camels do not eat because they are not hungry and starve. Wernery says plastic can also leach toxins and introduce bacteria that poison mammals into a single hump.

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"If future and more detailed studies prove 1 percent mortality per plastic, plastic pollution will surely be a cause for concern for (camels)," says Luca Nizzetto, an environmental scientist at the Norwegian Water Research Institute in Oslo. who did not participate in the investigation. "Such studies are relevant to raise awareness in society about this pollution."

Banning plastic bags and single-use plastics is crucial to protecting camels and other wildlife, Eriksen says. “Plastic bags are escape artists. They blow from garbage cans, landfills, trucks and people’s hands. They travel hundreds of miles. "



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