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Air guns, crossbows and catapults: RSPCA reveals shocking animal attacks

Charity releases data on sickening use of weapons targeting wildlife and pets.

Lethal weapons including crossbows, air guns, catapults and slingshots are being used to deliberately target and kill wildlife and pets, new data from the RSPCA reveals.

The animal charity has unveiled shocking new figures relating to deadly weapons used on animals over the past four years - with a horrifying crossbow attack on a squirrel one of the most recent attacks.

Since the beginning of 2020 (up to May 2023), the RSPCA received 808* reports relating to animals being intentionally harmed with a weapon. Air guns and rifles were responsible for the bulk of the incidents, with 658 reports made to the charity; but weapons such as catapults and slingshots accounted for a combined 124 incidents while there were 34 calls to the RSPCA about crossbow incidents.

Many incidents reported to the charity involve more than one animal being targeted at a time.

Top county hotspots calling the RSPCA to report incidents of animals attacked with weapons were Kent (56 reports), Greater London (47), Merseyside (35) and jointly West Yorkshire (30), Nottinghamshire (30) and West Midlands (30).

The UK's under-threat wildlife tragically bore the brunt of the attacks, with 841 wild birds - including waterfowl and marine birds - shot by a gun or crossbow or hit by a catapult since the beginning of 2020. Shockingly, pet cats were also a prime target, with 262 cats deliberately attacked with weapons, followed by wild mammals (82), dogs (59), farm animals (41) and equines (26).

The charity has released the heartbreaking figures as part of its Cancel Out Cruelty campaign, in a bid to raise funds to help its frontline rescue teams continue to save animals from cruelty and abuse - like deadly weapon attacks.

Geoff Edmond, national wildlife coordinator at RSPCA said: "It is unspeakably cruel, totally unacceptable and illegal to shoot animals for 'fun' - or as target practice, but sadly our emergency line is receiving hundreds of reports.

"We think of ourselves as a nation of animal lovers, but the RSPCA's experience shows that there are people out there who are deliberately targeting wildlife, pets and farm animals with guns, catapults, and crossbows. These weapons cause horrific pain and suffering.

"Day after day, our frontline officers and animal centres see the sickening consequences of weapons being used on animals - severe injuries often leading to death. And what we deal with is probably only the tip of the iceberg as not all cases will be reported to the RSPCA directly and there may be situations where animals injured and killed by these weapons are sadly never found - especially in the case of wildlife. This is why we need our supporters to back our Cancel Out Cruelty campaign so we can tackle this horrific trend."

Examples of recent attacks include:

Air gun: Earlier this year, a buzzard was found shot in the head with an air rifle. Although the pellet missed her eye and skull, the wound had become an abscess and as the bird was emaciated it is likely she had been shot some time ago, preventing her from eating.

Norfolk, April 2023

Catapult: Groups of youths were reported repeatedly shooting nesting ducks and swans with catapults along the River Frome.

Dorset, July 2023

Crossbow: A mallard duck miraculously survived a horrifying attack after being shot with a crossbow bolt which had been left lodged in the bird's head.

Telford, November 2022

Air gun: Two cats belonging to the same owner were both shot in the face within the space of one month.

Faversham, Kent, November 2022

For more information on what to do if you find an injured wild animal, visit the RSPCA website.

Because air guns feature in so many reports of intentional harm against animals, the RSPCA has been campaigning to remove the loophole from firearm legislation which allows minors unsupervised possession of air weapons on private land, describing it as a 'recipe for disaster'. The UK Government agreed with this proposal and in July 2022 undertook to amend the Firearms Rules 1998 to strengthen controls on access to airguns by minors, but this has yet to occur one year on.

All wild birds, including swans, are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and it is an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take them except under licence. The maximum penalty, if found guilty, is six months in prison and/or an unlimited fine.

Anyone caught deliberately using an air gun to injure an animal can face up to five years in prison and/or an unlimited fine if found guilty under the Animal Welfare Act.

Geoff added: "Right now, animal cruelty is happening in England and Wales on a massive scale. It is heartbreaking that we are seeing such sad figures which show animal cruelty is so prevalent in our society.

"Each year, reports of cruelty reach a terrible annual peak in the summer months - and we're braced for another summer of reports about innocent animals being targeted by air rifles, catapults, and other deadly weapons. We need the help of our supporters so we can cancel out cruelty once and for all."

As the only charity in England and Wales investigating cruelty and rescuing animals, the RSPCA needs support to stay out on the frontline:

£2 could help to provide a meal for a cat or dog.

£6 could help pay to feed a dog for a day.

£10 could help pay towards bandages for a cat or dog.

£15 could help pay for a cat or dog's clinical exam.

£20 could help pay towards a bird catching kit.

£30 could help pay for a life jacket for an inspector.

£100 could help pay towards water rescue equipment.

£500 could kit out a 4x4 inspector van.

The RSPCA's frontline teams are working hard to rescue animals in need this summer, but we can't do it alone - we need your help to Cancel Out Cruelty. To help support the RSPCA, visit:

Read more: New figures reveal 242 cat cruelty reports made to RSPCA in Gloucestershire last year 

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