As the global pandemic continues, animals are increasingly becoming entangled in discarded face coverings, putting their lives at risk.

Hundreds of animals have already been rescued from disposable mask entanglement in recent months, Yahoo! News reported, alerting us to the importance of snipping mask straps before throwing them away and using environmentally-friendly masks and face shields whenever possible.

In one heartbreaking example, a bird died in April, during the early stages of North America’s lockdown, after reportedly spending two days entangled in a disposable mask.

Photographer Steve Shipley even captured images of an endangered peregrine falcon struggling to free his talons from a mask.

To prevent further suffering and tragedy, please cut your mask’s strings before throwing away the disposable face coverings, similarly to how it’s now common practice in many households to snip plastic six-pack rings before discarding them to avoid harming wildlife.

Another way to protect animals is to opt for an environmentally-friendly face covering, such as a reusable cloth mask. While these masks are not medical-grade quality, they are generally considered acceptable for everyday use. And for as little as $1 each, cloth masks are available in a variety of colors, patterns, and sustainable materials.

Plastic pollution, including medical gloves and masks, already posed enormous threats to animals before the COVID-19 crisis began. Every year, an estimated 136,000 seals, sea lions, and large whales die from plastic entanglement, as well as “inestimable” birds, sea turtles, and other species, according to World Animal Protection. Now that mask-wearing is a part of daily life in many places, conservationists fear that these numbers will dramatically increase.

As we adjust to the “new normal” of life during a pandemic, we must live up to our responsibility to dispose of single-use masks properly, and avoid creating waste whenever possible by resorting to eco-friendly alternatives.

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dead bird tangled in mask