Devastating images have emerged highlighting the impact discarded face masks are having on wildlife.
People have been urged to cut the straps from their face masks before disposing due to the damage the loops can do to wildlife if they make it into the environment.
In one example of the masks causing trauma to animals, a struggling bird was spotted in Chelmsford, in the east of England, barely able to walk.
Photos of the young gull, which was collected by the RSPCA and taken to the South Essex Wildlife Hospital in July, showed the ties of a disposable face mask tangled around its legs.
The “sad victim of COVID-19” had developed swollen limbs and joints, with vet hospital staff saying the face mask had likely been there for an extended period.
Heartwarming video showed the bird being freed of the foreign object as a vet inspected the damage it had done to its legs and feet.
Photos from the rescue have since gone viral after being shared by blog site BEACH combing, which urged followers to not throw away face masks without cutting its side straps first.
“Don’t forget to cut your straps,” the post read. It has been shared more than 81,000 times since being uploaded to Facebook on Friday.
Nearly 800 people commented on the post, expressing their distress at the horrible impact the additional waste was having on the environment.
One social media user said they too had found a discarded face mask, saying it made him feel “sick to my stomach”.
“Sickening seeing it there. So many things were thought about in that one moment,” he wrote in a comment.
Many argued that if people were disposing of the masks properly they shouldn’t need to cut the straps, however others pointed out that some were bound to end up a hazard regardless.
“Think about it people, all very well putting it the rubbish, but where does the rubbish go? The tip, what gathers at the tip? Birds! CUT THE STRAPS!,” one wrote.
“It's not all about disposing properly. The animals can get them right out of the dump as well. It's just best to cut the straps so no matter where they may get them, injuries are less likely to happen,” another said.
Others encouraged people to get on board with buying reusable cloth masks to avoid having to use the disposable ones.
“Poor babies. I don't use that kind of mask. I use soft cloth ones and they're washable,” someone wrote.
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