An investigation has been launched after a tiny hedgehog was shot with an air rifle in South Lynn, Norfolk, and later put down, the RSPCA has announced.
The young female hedgehog was left paralysed and suffering alone for several days after being shot. She was discovered on Sunday evening by a member of the public.
"A woman had found the hedgehog dragging its hind legs and saw it needed help, so she picked it up and drove it to us," Alison Charles, manager of the RSPCA's East Winch Wildlife Centre, told BuzzFeed News.
After arriving at the centre the hedgehog was examined by a vet who suspected a spinal injury. When she was given an anaesthetic in order for medical staff to take X-rays, they discovered an air gun pellet embedded in her spine.
"The pellet had damaged the vertebrae and the spine, leaving her paralysed," Charles said. "It's absolutely awful. We were just so upset – who on earth would shoot a hedgehog?
"It's a small pellet and the person must've been quite close in order to penetrate the skin. It's just disgusting, and there is no reason why anyone should have done that."
Although the hedgehog came to the centre on Sunday, staff at the East Winch Wildlife Centre believe that she was probably shot several days before.
"The poor thing had probably been in pain dragging her legs around for a little while. It's absolutely horrible... thank god that lady found her," Charles said.
Ultimately, though, the vet was unable to save the hedgehog and she has now been put to sleep.
Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act a person can be sentenced to up to six months in prison and/or a £5,000 fine if found guilty of using an air gun to deliberately injure an animal.
The RSPCA is asking people who might have information about the incident to get in contact to help with its investigation. It is also calling for tighter controls on air rifle ownership, including better education and explanation of the law when buying an air gun.
Fiona Rutherford is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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