Horrified wildlife lovers are appealing for information after a discovering a swan shot in the head and dying in agony at a pond in Knottingley.
Julie Gledhill, 47, and her daughter Faith, 20, both volunteers with Yorkshire Swan Sanctuary, found the swan on Sunday afternoon, one of a pair which had landed on the pond near the Turnpike pub on Pontefract Road.
The pair saw a man leaving the scene armed with an air rifle and found the swan dying in the middle of the pond.
Julie said: “We live just behind the pond and Faith had seen the birds land there on Friday and could see they were ringed.
“We’d gone on Sunday afternoon to check the rings when my daughter saw this man, who turned to go quite fast and then we saw the swan face down in the middle of the pond.
At first we thought it had got caught or trapped, but when we saw it had been shot in the back of the head.”
The pair managed to get the swan to shore, where it died minutes later in Julie’s arms.
She added: “It was just defenceless. It was really terrible, I have seen animals that have come in before shot or injured, but it’s awful to see something happening in front of you andbeing unable to do anything about it.
“It’s just senseless killing. There’s just no need for it. If swans are causing a nuisance, they just need to ring the sanctuary and we’ll come and move them.”
The man seen leaving the pond is described as in his mid to late 20s, dressed in a black tracksuit, a black hooded top and carrying an air rifle over his shoulder.
Dan Sidley, founder of Yorkshire Swan Sanctuary, said: “Why someone would inflict such terrible suffering to one of our most majestic birds is quite hard and difficult to comprehend.
“The swan clearly died in needless agony, and leaves behind a pining mate just ahead of the important breeding season.
“What’s worrying is that this could easily have been a family pet or even a child which was harmed with this dangerous weapon. The person responsible must be found.
“This is a shocking instance of deliberate animal cruelty, and we would like to appeal for further information and offer a potential reward for the successful prosecution of the offender.”
The incident has been reported to police, and anyone with information should contact Pontefract and Knottingley neighbourhood policing team on 101.