Dubai: Next time you casually toss a plastic bag out the window of your car, remember this fact: hundreds of camels are killed every year by plastic left behind in the desert.

That fatal pollution from plastic bags and ropes carelessly dumped in the desert is nibbled on by curious camels, sheep or gazelles - until it kills them.

Rocks of calcified plastic, weighing anything from 10 to 60 kilograms are found inside animal stomachs every day by Dr Ulrich Wernery, scientific director at the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory in Dubai.

"Animals are brought here to see why they have died. We carry out post-mortems on camels, gazelles, sheep and cows. Every day we have a camel that has died in a camel camp. One in every two camel dies from plastic," said Wernery.

The plastic pollution situation has been getting worse and worse and shows no indication of relenting, said Wernery. "I've been here for twenty years and first noticed this about fifteen years ago. In more or less every camel we find plastic. Before, everything was biodegradable," he said.

As campers and day trippers to the desert leave their trash in the wilderness, camels are finding more and more plastic in their environment.

The animals ingest plastic bags and ropes which then calcify in their stomach. Heavy rocks or balls of string fill up the stomach making it impossible for the camel or gazelle to eat so it eventually dies of starvation, said Wernery.

"Animals are dying from this pollution. The biggest rock of calcified plastic I have come across weighed 60 kilos. It was in a cow. I call it fatal pollution," he said.

Making the issue even more problematic is the difficulty in diagnosing it. Finding a ball of plastic in an animal's stomach is nearly impossible while it is alive, as it will not show up in an X-ray. The plastic rock will block the intestine so the animal feels full and stops feeding itself.

"Not only is plastic an eyesore but it is killing the wildlife. Everyday we find these animals. The plastic also releases toxins in the body that affect the liver and other organs. Camel calves are the worst affected because they are so curious," said Wernery.

In a recent published report, Wernery says that he has visited a desert area in Ras Al Khaimah where owners have dumped animals that have died from plastic ingestion. "I counted more than 30 carcasses and I named the place 'Death Valley'," said Wernery.

Struggling to pick up a 10kg calcified rock retrieved from a camel's stomach, he points out the still visible blue plastic bag.

"Awareness is zero. This is an epidemic," he said.


1. Camels find and eat plastic in the desert

2. Plastic bags or ropes calcify in the stomach

3. The calcification forms a rock which blocks the intestines

4. The plastic releases noxious toxins into the blood and organs

5. The animals feel full and stop eating

6. The animals die painfully of starvation

Stop dumping: Do's and don'ts

  • Do take all your rubbish away with you after excursions to wadis and deserts
  • Do pick up any other rubbish you see lying around
  • Do think before burying any waste, even if you think it is biodegradable
  • Do set a good example for your children
  • Don't expect to see camels or gazelles in the desert for much longer if you keep littering
  • Don't expect municipal workers to always pick up after you
  • Don't you think plastic bags look ugly in the wild?
  • Don't treat the outdoors like your personal rubbish dump

Your comments

The article speaks for it's self. Shameful. Stiff penalties should be imposed for littering. A good place to start is exit 103 from Emirates road towards Rte.11 /Barracuda. What a mess.
Posted: January 24, 2008, 12:34

An overall environmental campaign is long overdue in the UAE. People dump plastic and trash because they are totally unaware of the catastrophic consequences. Also, this could be informed to students in schools so people grow up knowing how trash affects our environment, animals and wildlife. As an avid animal lover I feel very sad every time I read news like this.
Posted: January 24, 2008, 12:18

This is a truth that we should understand. Not only for animals, but the whole system of nature gets effected with the uncontrolled use of plastics world wide. If it goes like this, future generation will get plastic dumps instead of water/coal/petrol etc. when they dig.
Posted: January 24, 2008, 11:46

This is really sad, we should stop using plastic bags, and we should start using paper bags, as in Pakistan Govt. has taken strict measures against the stores using plastic bags.
Posted: January 24, 2008, 11:40

Now we should be very careful about our waste not to trough here and there and make the environment unstable. I think we should reuse our plastic bag rather taking new from the hypermarkets.
Posted: January 24, 2008, 10:07

Really we are very late to take the measure of toxic pollution of Plastic on Human and animal. Developing countries like India had got plastic reprocessing plants which make the use full products from the plastic and other waste.These step should be taken very urgently. And also we should feel our responsibiliy not to scatter plastic waste in open area.
Posted: January 24, 2008, 10:03

Please ban plastic bags. It is the scourge of the 20th century. All malls/super markets should stop using plastic bags.
Posted: January 24, 2008, 09:41

This is sad. Why don't we stop using plastics? The Authorities should bann the plastic bags and introduce paper bags.
Posted: January 24, 2008, 09:36