Only last month, Vibes of India highlighted the plight of sloth bears whose population in Gujarat increased by just 4.4% in seven years. The figures, published by a daily, claimed that the rise in the bear population — from 343 in 2016 to 358 in 2023 — was the lowest for an endangered species in the state.
Now, it has emerged that the sloth bears are feeding on discarded plastic packets. Ironically, on World Environment Day — this year the theme is ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’ — the sloth bear and many other endangered species continue to be susceptible to the menace of plastics.
According to a recent study, sloth bears in the Chhota Udepur district are now consuming plastic food packets. It has emerged that their scat was found to contain plastic residue along with ants and beetles, Indian plum, and golden shower flowers.
Plastic chokes the digestive tract endangering the lives of sloth bears, wildlife experts have pointed out.
“Tribals in the area drink a liquor made from flowers of the Mahua tree sold in plastic bags. They throw away the bag after consuming it. Sloth bears could have swallowed the discarded plastic bags unintentionally,” part of the paper reads.
The paper added that tribals around the area consume liquor made from flowers of the Mahua tree, sold in plastic bags that are later discarded. Sloth bears are drawn to the aroma of Mahua from the bags and end up consuming them.
A national daily reported that the researchers collected sloth bear scat samples from Kevdi in Navsari district, Dholisimel in Chhota Udepur and Ambakhunt village in Panchmahal.
The paper added that Kevdi is famous for polystyrene plates, usually used by tourists.
“Their diet usually consists of six types of insects and 17 sugar-rich fruits, flowers, grasses and honey,” a senior forest department official was quoted as saying.
B Suchindra, conservator of the Jessore sloth bear sanctuary, told the media, “We have banned plastic in the sanctuary and nearby areas. We have also begun an annual drive within and around forest limits to clear plastic waste.”
Another section of the paper reads, “There is an immediate need to regulate the use of plastics and adopt suitable waste disposal methods at ecotourism sites.”