Litter and animals

I am sure that you will agree that it is very unlikely that anyone who litters ever thinks about the possible consequences of their actions. In fact, you might reasonably wonder if any litterers ever think much beyond the immediate question of ridding themselves of the rubbish that they have in their hands.

But I do think that if some of the people who litter were aware of some of the unexpected consequences of dropping stuff, then they might think twice about doing it. This thought occurred to me as I read a couple of stories that caught my eye recently involving litter causing harm to animals.

A farmer in Dumfriesshire told of his 5-month-old calf standing on a can, pushing part of its hind hoof into it so that the can became stuck. The calf was in excruciating pain as the jagged edges formed by the can opener cut into the flesh. As the farmer walked the calf back to the farm shed with its mother, it kept charging off in all directions, in agony at the pain. The farmer finally managed to restrain the calf and cut the can free.

An Anglesey pig farmer told of his pet sow Petunia dying a “horrid” death after eating a plastic bag. The farmer reckoned that the bag (of the type that is used to hold fruit and vegetables at the supermarket) had blown across a field and into the pig enclosure and, of course, that the pig had sensed there was food in the bag and so gone after it. Petunia choked on the bag.

I am sure that neither of the people who dropped the respective items of litter would have imagined what misery their action would cause.

The RSPCA says that it receives over 7,000 calls a year about litter-related incidents causing harm to animals. And the actual number of incidents is likely to be much higher than this as many people will take an injured animal straight to the vet. The sort of incidents that the RSPCA sees caused by discarded rubbish include a fox cub with its head stuck in a wheel hub, a badger cub with a plastic can holder embedded in its neck, a dog with its tongue caught in a discarded can, a cow with its head stuck in a fly-tipped washing machine and a hedgehog that got its head wedged in an empty tin.

Although the obvious solution is to take rubbish home or put it in a bin, the RSPCA has some suggestions for avoiding litter harming animals :
Avoid balloon releases and cut used balloons into pieces before putting in the bin. Use alternatives to Chinese lanterns (e.g. static candles or nightlights) as their debris can be devastating to animals. Many animals are attracted by the leftovers in cans and tins and get their heads trapped or tongues caught, so clean cans and pinch them shut. Reuse rubber bands or cut them before binning. Take unwanted fishing tackle home. Recycle glass jars. Tie a knot in plastic bags before disposal. Cut the loops in plastic can holders before putting in a bin.

So please help to pass the message around that littering can cost animals their lives and cause untold agony in the process. And that’s just on land. The suffering that marine wildlife undergo due to litter is another story altogether.

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