Former Health and Promotion Administration (HPA) director-general Chiou Shu-ti (邱淑媞) on Sunday urged smokers to stop littering, after she took a picture of a Formosan blue magpie seemingly mistaking a cigarette butt for food.
The bird was looking for something to eat near a river when it appeared to mistake the cigarette butt for food, said Chiou, a bird-watcher and photographer, adding that she hopes the image would raise awareness about littering.
The picture was taken in Qianshan Park in Taipei’s Yangmingshan (陽明山) area, which is an important habitat for the Formosan blue magpie, she added.
Photo courtesy of Chiou Shu-ti
The Formosan blue magpie, also known as the “long-tailed mountain lady,” is one of Taiwan’s 14 endemic bird species, and was named Taiwan’s national bird in 2007.
Fortunately, the magpie in the picture did not swallow the butt, otherwise there could have been severe consequences, as they contain toxic elements such as arsenic and lead, Chiou said.
Every year, up to 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered globally, and they are also the biggest contributor to marine pollution, she said, citing reports, adding that in 2000, the California Coastal Cleanup Day collected 230,000 cigarette butts in one day.
Chiou said that in 2014, when she was head of the HPA, she promoted a policy to designate smoking areas in parks, but cigarette butts can still be seen in parks across Taiwan.
Although butts thrown into the water, as opposed to the ground, are less likely to be eaten by animals, the water cycle can still bring them back to humans after they travel through underground pipes and the sea, she said.
International initiatives urge smokers to take responsibility for their trash by putting butts into a pocket ashtray, she said, adding that smokers in Taiwan should also work to reduce litter.
Huang Shu-ting (黃蜀婷), the head of a Tainan-based bird photography club, said she has long encouraged bird-watchers to be “frontline observers of the ecosystem” who raise awareness about environmental issues that they see.
Many bird-watchers participate in activities to clean mountains and beaches as part of their efforts to create a better living environment for birds, she added.
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