RSPCA investigators and cops are hunting the ruthless shooters who slaughtered an entire family of two adult swans and their five cygnets.
The charity released X-ray images of one of the dead swans showing how its head, neck and wings were riddled with airgun pellets, leading to an agonising death.
A spokesman for the RSPCA said today: "An entire family of swans in Kent has been wiped out after the birds – both parents and all five of their cygnets – were shot and killed in a senseless attack.
"The RSPCA is appealing for information after the bodies of the birds were discovered wrapped in plastic bags and thrown down the bank of a stream in Stepneyford Lane, Benenden.
"Officers from the rural policing team at Kent Police responded to calls about the birds and collected the bodies from the location."
It was not known whether they were shot for fun by the airgun owners, or killed in the hope of being able to sell their meat.
It is an offence to injure, take or kill a wild swan as they are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
RSPCA Inspector Dave Grant, who was alerted to the killings by police, said that two of the birds' bodies have been examined by staff and "X-rays revealed that they were peppered with shot or pellets.
"It’s clear that these poor mute swans have been shot and killed deliberately.
"It’s absolutely disgusting that someone would purposefully target and kill these beautiful birds and it’s heartbreaking that an entire family has been wiped out in this cruel incident."
Inspector Grant added: "I’m keen to find out who is responsible for this senseless attack on this family of swans.
"Please can anyone with any information about what has happened to these birds, where they’ve come from or anyone who may have seen something suspicious in the area over the weekend contact us by calling our appeal line on 0300 123 8018."
The RSPCA is calling for better regulation of air weapons after receiving 884 calls reporting air gun attacks on animals across England and Wales in 2017.
The animal welfare charity wants to see stricter controls over airguns as well as better education and explanation of the law for those buying one.
Last year, there were 51 calls from Kent about air gun attacks – the second highest figure in the country – and officers find wild birds, wild animals and cats are the most likely to be injured by these weapons.
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