The shocking scale of animal attacks with crossbows, airguns and catapults

Dozens of animals have been targeted and killed with lethal weapons including crossbows, air guns, catapults and slingshots in the last four years in the UK, with hundreds of others being injured, the RSPCA has revealed.

The animal welfare charity said its latest case was a horrifying crossbow attack on a squirrel in Whinchat Grove in Kidderminster on June 19. X-ray images released by the charity showed how deep the crossbow injured the animal, leaving a mark and a deep hole in its body.

At the time of the incident, RSPCA Inspector Steve Morrall rushed the squirrel to a vet where sadly he had to be put to sleep because of the severity of the injuries.

Mr Morrall said: “The squirrel was alive and in agony with the crossbow bolt lodged in his body. This cruel and intentional act caused the squirrel significant pain and unnecessary suffering.”

Kent is among the worst areas for cases of animals being intentionally harmed by weapons, seeing 56 reports since 2020, followed by Greater London with 47 reports.

From the start of 2020 up to May 2023, the animal welfare charity received 808 reports relating to animals being intentionally harmed by weapons.

Airguns and rifles were responsible for a majority of the incidents with 658 reports made to the charity. However, catapults and slingshots accounted for a combined 124 incidents, while there were 34 calls made to the RSPCA about crossbow attacks.

The counties that saw the most reports of animals intentionally harmed by weapons between 2020 and May 2023 were:

1) Kent - 56 reports
2) Greater London - 47 reports
3) Merseyside - 35 reports
4) West Yorkshire - 30 reports
5) Nottinghamshire - 30 reports
6) West Midlands - 30 reports
7) Greater Manchester - 28 reports
8) Essex - 26 reports
9) Hampshire - 26 reports
10) South Yorkshire - 25 reports

The figures were released as part of the charity’s Cancel Out Cruelty campaign, which strives to stop animal abuse.

RSPCA national wildlife coordinator Geoff Edmond 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.”

Mr Edmond said frontline officers and animal centres see the “sickening” consequences of weapons being used on animals, with 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,” he added.

The RSPCA has called on the public to back their campaign to help tackle “this horrific trend”.

Earlier this year, in April 2023, a buzzard was also 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,” the RSPCA said.

In November last year, a mallard duck survived an attack after it was shot with a crossbow bolt.

Another incident last November saw two cats shot in the face within the space of a month. The cats were shot with an airgun, the RSPCA said.

Due to the increase in reports, the RSPCA has been campaigning to remove the loophole from firearm legislation which allows minors unsupervised possession of air weapons on private land.

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,” the RSPCA added.

The charity has said that all birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and killing them or intentionally hurting them is an offence - except under licence. The maximum penalty, if found guilty, is six months in prison and/or an unlimited fine.

Under the Animal Welfare Act, 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, the RSPCA said.

Mr Edmond 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.”