ABU DHABI // A growing number of desert animals and pets are dying or suffering grievous injuries because of litter, veterinary experts say.
Each year Dr Ulrich Wernery sees more than 100 animals – including cows, camels, goats, sheep and gazelles – which suffered “an agonising death” from ingesting plastic from discarded shopping bags or bottles.
“I open up many animals who have plastic in their stomachs. It is completely unnecessary,” said the scientific director of the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory in Dubai.
Animals often ingest plastic over a number of years. The indigestible material, or plastic gastroliths, in the animals’ stomachs make them think that they are full, so they fail to eat and eventually starve to death.
“Over a period of time, the plastic will build up like a kidney stone,” said Dr Wernery. “This makes the animal feel full and he will stop eating. When I see a skinny animal, then I know this animal has ingested kilos of plastic.”
He once operated on a camel that had 52 kilograms of plastic gastroliths. Although that was one of the worse incidents, it was not an isolated case, said Dr Wernery.
In other cases, plastic blocks the intestines of animals, causing them to die within days. Plastic also hurts animals by poisoning them. “This is not just a problem in the UAE and the Arabian Peninsula. This a growing problem globally,” said Dr Wernery.
One solution was to reduce the use of plastic bags, he said.
Dr Margit Muller, director of the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital and the Abu Dhabi Animal Shelter, attests to the harm that plastic poses to animals.
“Plastics can block the intestines of the animals, if ingested, thus resulting in constipation and other kinds of diseases that are caused by not passing stools,” she said.
Aside from plastic bags, the shelter often gets calls about animals that are hurt by carelessly discarded broken glass.
“These types of cases take a long time [for the animals] to heal and are extremely painful. Also, pointed objects can endanger their life,” said Dr Muller.
Like Dr Ulrich, she has come across animals that needed urgent medical attention because of discarded rubbish.
“We received a severely injured cat because it ingested a thread with a pointed object,” she said. “Its stomach was severely damaged … and she suffered from internal bleeding.”