Outraged locals today offered a £10,500 bounty on the head of a bloody-thirsty gunman responsible for slaying up to 31 swans at a wildlife beauty spot.
Scores of the elegant birds have been found dead – many with gun shot wounds – during a month-long killing spree, which animal welfare campaigners have dubbed a ”massacre”.
The bloodied carcasses of six swans were discovered in January, but now 23 others have now been found strewn across a small area of the scenic Somerset Levels.
Villagers, fearing an air rifle-toting hunter with a grudge is picking off the protected birds, have now clubbed together and offered the five-figure reward to help snare the killer.
Wildlife experts – rushing to aid injured swans across three tiny Somerset villages – have claimed it is the worst attack against the birds they have ever seen.
Pauline Kidner, founder of the Secret World wildlife centre in East Huntspill, Somerset, said: “More reports of suspicious deaths of swans on the Levels have been reported.
“Secret World is urging the public to remain vigilant when out walking in the local area.
“If anyone sees more than one dead swan then please notify us so we are able to collect evidence and investigate the matter further.”
The carnage began when members of the public saw six dead swans in the village of Wedmore, Somerset, on January 30.
Eight swans were then found dead in nearby Blackford, Somerset.
X-ray results showed they had been shot by a high-powered air rifle – many straight through the head. One had been shot three times by the callous killer.
More swan bodies have now been found by horrified animal-lovers in a field in Westham, near Wedmore, and another village of Godney, Somerset.
Post-mortems are now being carried out on the bodies, left to rot on banks, in fields and in the water.
Another swan survived the attack. She’d been found bleeding and had to be prized away from her dead mate.
Carers at Secret World have nursed her back to health at their centre but are questioning whether it is safe to release the bird.
Sara Cowen, from Secret World, said: ”We found the remains of nine swans yards away from where the first nine were found.
”Unfortunately they are too decomposed to tell how they died but staff at The Secret World say in decades of their work they’ve never seen anything like this.
”It just makes me sick because it was bad enough with a few swans but to me this is a massacre.”
Desperate locals have now clubbed together a £10,500 reward for information leading to a conviction of the swan killer.
They are also taking to their vehicles along the Levels, staking out quiet spots in hope of catching the brutal yob red-handed.
Phil New, 53, who lives in nearby Highbridge, Somerset, was first to start up the fund after word spread of the vicious death.
He said yesterday: ”I heard about these killings so decided to start up a collection.
”I am totally disgusted at what has happened here and agree that they should be named and shamed.
”I think they should receive the maximum sentence to get the message across to other idiots who think this is clever or funny.
”It takes a lot to put a tear in my eye but what happened here has achieved that, not just for what they actually did to the swans but it leaves you feeling there is no hope for the rest of us if this is what is happening in the world now.
”The only good thing I can see from it, is it brings the nice people in our community together to fight against things like this.
”It’s just mindless violence – there is no excuse for anything like this.”
Police have stepped up patrols in the area and the RSPCA has also appealed for information to stop the deadly attacks.