In the absence of efficient waste management systems, India is grappling with a mammoth garbage problem. Thousands of tonnes of untreated and unsegregated waste pollute the country’s land, water and air, while serving as toxic foraging grounds for a plethora of wild animals.
To highlight this travesty, I and my colleague at the Sanctuary Nature Foundation, Prachi Galange, conceptualised an Instagram project titled #InOurFilth. The project invites photographers from across India to submit images that illustrate the impact of garbage on nation’s wild species. We then curate the submissions and post an image each week on the Instagram handle of Sanctuary Nature Foundation.
The project was born in the photo library of the Foundation. Galange, who works as the photo editor and naturalist at the Foundation, and I noticed an alarming number of images that showcase wild animals in heavily polluted surroundings. It was then that we thought of #InOurFilth as a public awareness campaign to draw the link between our everyday consumption and the condition of wild animals that are forced to share space with us.
Here are some images of wildlife #InOurFilth.
Royal Mess: In the buffer zone of the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve, a tiger cub picks up a plastic gunny bag. With several tiger reserves in India boasting healthy tiger populations, the question that arises is: where will all of them go? Many tigers have begun foraying into human-dominated landscapes or degraded and insufficiently protected forests, where they must contend with the pressures of sharing space with human communities. This can lead to all manner of conflicts, and, as in this case, tiger cubs chewing on plastic.
Plastic (P)lover: The beautiful, black-masked eye of a Little Ringed Plover is pictured in contrast to a plastic water bottle littered on the Ajay riverbed. By some estimates, a million plastic beverage bottles are sold globally every minute. The majority of these are never recycled and will long outlive the person who purchased them.
Single-use Sins: In Valparai, Tamil Nadu, a lion-tailed macaque rips into a single-use packet filled with curry. This incredible, distinctive species is endemic to small pockets of the Western Ghats. It dwells in the rainforest and primary eats, or should eat, fruit. But with forests getting degraded and fragmented, and with garbage piling up, it is being forced to change its habits. Researchers say that these macaques are spending more time on the ground and having negative interactions with humans – including raiding homes and foraging for human food.
Marmot Task: In remote Ladakh, the face of a Himalayan marmot is obscured as it gathers nesting material that includes discarded plastic bags. A dream destination for most travel enthusiasts, Ladakh has suffered gravely because of unregulated tourism. Just a kilometre from Leh city lies India’s highest landfill, where an estimated 30,000 plastic bottles get dumped in summer months alone.
Poison Parcel: We adore our elephant god, but through sheer neglect poison our elephants. In Siliguri, West Bengal, a wild elephant scavenges for food at an unauthorised rubbish heap. She prepares to stuff a plastic bag filled with vegetable peels into her mouth. Once ingested, the plastic can wreak havoc on its body and potentially lead to death. According to Elephant Family, a UK-based NGO, nine of the 13 countries that are home to Asian elephants are amongst the world’s worst managers of plastic waste.
Mouse House: In Kavrem, Goa, an adorable long-tailed tree mouse roosts inside a discarded polythene packet that has been caught on a bush. While this plastic palace may momentarily shield the mouse from the elements, it is a dangerous home. It could suffocate or poison its resident and eventually go on to pollute land or water.
Garbage Ghats: This gorgeous portrait of the elusive brown palm civet or Jerdon’s palm civet is marred by its awful surroundings. It was found foraging through rubbish at an informal garbage dump in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu. This handsome animal is endemic to the forested tracts of the Western Ghats and is listed as Vulnerable on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Known to be nocturnal and arboreal, it is associated with rainforest canopies and the dark of the night. To see one going through garbage in the daytime is tragic.
Lone Wolf: “Now this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky/And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die… The jackal may follow the tiger, but, cub, when thy whiskers are grown/Remember the wolf is a hunter – go forth and get food of thine own,” recites the wolf pack in Rudyard Kipling’s classic ‘The Jungle Book’. But in a grassland in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, the law of the jungle lies shattered. This handsome male wolf was photographed as it nosed through the garbage at a dumping ground, tearing open plastic bags and gingerly stepping over the rotting, leaking refuse.
Falcon Footwear: In the vast expanse of the Little Rann of Kutch, a Eurasian Hobby perches upon a lone slipper. While the Little Rann still teems with wildlife, it is increasingly threatened by unnatural changes in upstream hydrology, pressure from the salt industry and the effects of tourism.
Trashing Tigers: In Maharashtra’s Tipeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, a tiger cub picks up a carelessly thrown plastic bottle. Unregulated and uninformed tourism has placed an enormous strain on natural resources. Tourists visiting India’s national parks and sanctuaries don’t realise that they can lighten their footprint just by refusing packaged snacks and beverages, and booking their stay in legitimately eco-conscious homestays and resorts.
Pecking Order: In the rushed and dusty city of Gurugram, two forlorn yellow-wattled lapwings forage in a pile of rubbish. These birds are ground-nesters and it is difficult to imagine the life they have been forced into by human overconsumption and neglect.
Daily Diner: For small omnivorous mammals, such as the Indian Tree Shrew, a garbage dump can serve as an all-you-can-eat buffet. They feed on food scraps, including bits of fruits, vegetables and cooked items, as well as on the plethora of insects that are attracted to the site. The availability of food in the dump caused this otherwise timid creature to leave the safety of its natural habitat and even tolerate the presence of other individuals. Proximity to humans can be dangerous for wildlife: they can be attacked by stray dogs or cats, and the garbage often contains unsuitable or contaminated foods, not to mention plastic, as evident from the picture.
Poisoned Waters: A checkered keelback catches a meal in a filthy waterbody in Dharwad, Karnataka. That unmissable plastic bottle is just the tip of the iceberg. According to Niti Aayog, the government’s policy think tank, 70% of India’s water is contaminated, with 600 million people facing high to extreme water stress.
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