Unsafe disposal of face masks risk for wildlife!

Photograph taken by Adnan Azad Asif, wildlife Researcher in Bangladesh.

Monkeys are well known for their trait of imitating humans, but a rhesus macaque has seen to wearing a disposed face mask. The moment was captured in Nilachal at Bandarban by a wildlife researcher.

In Bandarban, Nilachal is one of the most alluring tourist spots in Bangladesh. Every day thousands of tourists visit the spot. Unfortunately, some tourists, unaware of environmental pollution and its impact on flora and fauna, are presenting huge threat for the local environment by throwing away face masks.

While working in forests, wildlife researcher Adnan Azad Asif noticed that a monkey picked up a disposed face mask and wore that imitating humans. Adnan shared the story with Bengal Discover and expressed his concern on wildlife conservation in the COVID-19 pandemic. He said, ‘I saw, after a while, the monkey took the mask into the forest.’

Since the COVID-19 spread throughout Bangladesh, people have started using face masks to get protection from virus. But unfortunately, few people tend to throw away face masks anywhere; specially in tourist spots close to nature and wildlife habitat location.

Experts say that the trend badly affects wildlife. The recent photograph taken by Adnan raised the concern about the wildlife conservation.

Bengal Discover asked questions to zoologists, veterinarians, researchers and forest officers to that end. According to specialists, unsafe masks can endanger animals as well human beings, who may also suffer for their negligence.

Dr. Monirul Hasan Khan, a wildlife researcher of Bangladesh, pointed out that monkeys, entellus, and apes to be at the most risk as they can be affected by same microbes as humans. Though the other species are at less risk, littering of human‑used products should be stopped.

This is indecent and harmful for environment and wildlife, said Monirul Hasan Khan. He emphasised creating awareness among the tourists and taking legal measures.

Dr Nazmul Huda, zoo veterinarian of the Bangladesh National Zoo, said, ‘If a person is affected by TB (Mycobacterium Tuberculosis), his thrown away mask will contaminate nature because TB aerosol can be transmitted. So, if a primate species puts on a used mask of an affected person, it can also be affected by TB virus.’

Zahir Uddin Akon, director of Wildlife Crime Control Unit of Bangladesh forest department, said, ‘A face mask doesn’t only protects us from virus but also to prevent the inside body germs from spreading out. So, both sides of a used mask contain numerous germs and all animals do not have same immunity level to fight all germs. Thrown-away masks can spread diseases among the wildlife.’

‘Such activity can bring turmoil in the balance of biodiversity and endanger human beings. The forest authorities have issued cautionary instructions for tourists in the tourist spots to this end. Assigned authorities should collect thrown-away masks and destroy those in a proper way,’ he added.

Specialist panel advises people to be more cautious during any epidemic to protect the humankind, wildlife and nature. Specially, people are advised to be cautious about littering their used materials like masks, gloves in places like natural tourist spots and wildlife habitat.