An investigation has been launched after a woman was seen strangling a swan to death in a public park.
A shocked passerby saw someone grab the bird, straddle it and then wring its neck, according to RSPCA investigators.
The member of the public dialled 999 then reported the crime to the animal welfare charity.
Police officers attended the scene and discovered the adult swan dead on a pathway before taking statements from two witnesses.
The incident happened in Chester Park in the town of Chester-le-Street, County Durham at around 7pm on May 30.
RSPCA officials have released images of the dead swan in a bid to track down witnesses and apprehend the offender, who is thought to have fled the park.
Swans are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, meaning it’s illegal to kill, injure or take one without a license.
Offenders can face up to six months in prison and/or an unlimited fine.
RSPCA inspector Trevor Walker, who is investigating, said: “Police were initially called by a member of the public who saw a woman grab the swan, straddle the bird and wring its neck.
“Officers attended the scene where they found the adult swan dead – with a soft tissue injury consistent with being strangled – and spoke to two women in connection with the incident.
“The bird’s body was removed by council workers and we were contacted to investigate.
“This sounds like an extremely upsetting incident and this attack has led to the unnecessary, tragic death of a beautiful bird.”
Insp Walker wants anyone who was in the park at around 7pm on May 30 to ring the RSPCA’s appeal line on 0300 123 8018.