LONDON (AFP) - In a tale reminiscent of the last Wallace and Gromit movie, furious villagers in northeast England have hired armed guards to protect their beloved communal vegetable gardens from a suspected monster rabbit.
Leeks, Japanese onions, parsnips and spring carrots have all been ripped up and devoured by the mystery were-rabbit -- prompting the 12 allotment holders in Felton, north of Newcastle, to hire two marksmen with air rifles and orders to shoot to kill.
"It is a massive thing. It is a monster. The first time I saw it, I said: 'What the hell is that?'" the Northumberland Gazette newspaper quoted local resident Jeff Smith, 63, as saying on its website (www.northumberlandtoday.co.uk
He claims to have seen the black and -- with one ear bigger than the other -- about two months ago, and at least three fellow allotment holders say they have seen it as well.
"I have seen it and it is bigger than a normal rabbit. It's eating all our crops and we grow the best stuff here," said retired miner George Brown, 76, quoted by the domestic Press Association news agency.
Smith could not be reached for comment Friday, but his mother told AFP that the hare-raising story is true -- and no less an authority than the British Rabbit Council said it was credible.
"Certain breeds do grow very big, like the Continental Giant" which can be 66 centimetres (26 inches) in length or more, a spokesman for the Nottinghamshire-based council, which represent rabbit breeders, told AFP.
In the last hit movie featuring Wallace and his dog Gromit, the two cartoon characters battled a monster rabbit that was cutting a swathe of destruction through locals' prize vegetable plots.