Highland cattle
Snipers shot 21 Highland cattle after they rampaged in a German town. Getty

Animal rights campaigners in Germany say they are outraged after snipers shot dead a herd of Highland and Galloway cattle which had just injured a cyclist and were threatening to stampede onto a busy motorway.

Local authorities ordered five hunters to kill the 21 animals in Pinneberg, in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, over fears they were about to stampede on to the nearby autobahn into oncoming traffic.

"The cattle were completely wild. They trampled fences underfoot," local official Rainer Schattauer told Elmshorner Nachrichten newspaper. "We saw no other solution. The decision was anything but easy for me. It was a scene of horror.

"The herd was a danger to the public. We had to act. Otherwise we would have been pilloried if something had happened."

Holger Sauerzweig-Strey, chairman of the state's Animal Welfare Federation, condemned the decision as something out of the Wild West.

"I've never heard of such a drastic case," said Susanne Tolkmitt of the same organisation. "In my view there was no danger in delaying. They should have repaired the fence. Or at least tried to before they killed so many animals."

The herd had reportedly escaped on several previous occasions from their field. Elmshorner Nachrichten reported how a local farmer had to perform abortions on 20 of his milk cows after they were mounted by the rampaging bulls.