Two swans are fighting for their lives after being shot with a crossbow.
The birds were found “seriously distressed” after being targeted by cruel thugs who fired arrows at their heads.
A white swan was shot through the neck, while a grey signet was shot through the mouth.
They were found by a member of the public who called the RSPCA to rescue them from the water in Maldon, Essex.
South Essex Wildlife Trust founder Sue Schwar, who also attended the scene, said: “It is appalling that people would do that kind of thing for fun.
“The crossbow arrow is made of plastic with a metal tip on them, so they are designed to cause enough damage to kill an animal easily.
“The swans were very scared, they see humans as predators so they are quick to run away, they can flap their wings and hiss but that is all they have to defend themselves with.
“They were very, very lucky, in the way the arrow has gone through them. If it moved millimetres they could have been killed or paralysed.”
It took three hours to retrieve the birds from the river in Maldon, Essex, and take them to the nearby South Essex Wildlife Centre.
Vet Tom Linsel, 49, said: “The swans were seriously distressed, because they have a problem in their neck and they are not sure why.
“There is a chip in the beak of the signet and I am hoping that it should heal.
“The only problem we have is we have to wait to see how bad the infection gets.
“We don’t know how the outcome will be because unfortunately it is very deep in the body, it was just too deep.”
The swans were immediately taken to the wildlife hospital to receive urgent treatment, including a course of antibiotics to fight off infection.
They will be kept there for a couple of weeks until they are fully recovered and ready to go back to their natural habitat.
Tom said: “At the moment we are doing everything we can to heal and we are just waiting.
“You never know what the outcome is, especially as bacterial infection is always the biggest worry.”