Warning to desert campers over harm caused to animals by litter

Litter can end up in the stomachs of camels, goats or gazelles, leaving them unable to digest their food, which can prove fatal.

Camels eat rubbish by the roadside along Exit 110 off the E311 in Umm Al Quwain. Steven McCombe / The National
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SHARJAH // Late-night camping by the roadside and on beaches is common practice in the Northern Emirates but the waste left behind is causing problems for desert wildlife.

Litter can end up in the stomachs of camels, goats or gazelles, leaving them unable to digest their food, which can prove fatal.

A drive north on the E311 reveals countless bags of litter strewn by the roadside, which, in addition to looking unsightly, also poses huge risk for animals, experts said.

Dead camels, goats, gazelles and even marine life such as turtles have been found to have plastic in their abdomen after eating litter left in the desert or on beaches.

As the photograph suggests, even road-side dumpsters left open are an invitation to feast for wild camels.

Jane Budd, head veterinarian at the Breeding Centre for Endangered Wildlife, said that these incidents are not new. She has seen plastic in dead animals during post-mortem examinations.

“We received so may cases of these. We found plastic, which can’t be broken down in their gastric system and gets stuck and, over time, the animals can’t digest nutrition they eat due to the amount of plastic in their bodies,” she said.

“We have seen many cases of camels, goats, gazelles with plastic in their abdomen.”

Littering is punishable by hefty fines. In Ajman, litter bugs can face fines of Dh10,000 and it is Dh2,000 in Sharjah.

“With the current weather conditions, more people are going camping in Sharjah. Inspectors have been deployed especially on weekends to warn and fine people who are disturbing the wildlife and littering,” said Hana Al Suwaidi, director of Sharjah Environment and Protected Areas Authority.

“Over the weekends, our inspectors are fining 20 to 30 individuals for littering in the desert areas of the emirate.”

Shepards who allow their camels to go astray also face a fine, of Dh1,000, in Sharjah.

“Camels should have a shepherd with them as they graze. He should make sure the animals are feeding on grass or trees, [and stopping them from eating] rubbish and other items that might be dangerous to their health,” said Ms Al Suwaidi.

Litter left on beaches and in the sea also causes problems for marine life.

Fadi Yaghmour, scientific researcher at Sharjah EPAA, said: “Turtles, as an example, does not differentiate between a jelly fish and a plastic bag - they eat the plastic found and, ultimately, cause its death.

“[Even] picking up sea shells from the beach can hurt the hermit crab, as they use the shells for protection from predators.

“For beachgoers, I urge them to take only pictures on the beach and leave behind only their footprints when they leave, to be able to protect the environment.”

Sharjah is taking action on those that damage wildlife. One law sees fines of between Dh1,000 and Dh50,000 for anyone intruding on wildlife but, as well as punishment, educating the public is important, said Ms Al Suwaidi.

“Community involvement in environment protection and biodiversity conservation in Sharjah and the UAE is instrumental to ensure a sustainable environment for future generations. This community contribution is particularly significant as our environment has a unique variety of rare and endangered species,” she said.