The attackers are targeting horses and ponies in pastures across France armed with knives in what could be ritual mutilation.
Police are baffled by the grisly attacks, which include cuts. More often than not, one ear – usually the correct one – has been cut off, reminiscent of the matador’s trophy in an arena.
Up to 30 attacks have been reported in France, the agriculture minister said on Friday. An attack was recorded in February, according to the news magazine Le Point. With each attack, the mystery only grows.
“We are not ruling out anything,” Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie said on France-Info.
After the first solid observation of an assailant, the gendarmes of Auxerre, Burgundy, released a composite sketch based on a description of a man who argued with two assailants at his animal shelter in a village in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region.
“Before, I had confidence in putting my horses to pasture. Today, I have fear in my guts, ”Nicolas Demajean, who runs the Ranch of Hope refuge, told regional television channel France 3 on Thursday.
Alerted by his squealing pigs, Demajean faced two attackers last Monday. He was injured in the arm in a fight with an intruder wielding a pruning knife as the other cut the sides of two ponies, recovering but “traumatized,” he said. The men fled in a vehicle.
The next day, a young pony is targeted in Saône-et-Loire. In another case, some organs of a horse were removed.
A donkey believed to have taken part in past Christmas markets in Paris was killed in a horrific attack in June.
In France, theories abound as to whether mutilation is a morbid rite of an unknown sect, a frightening “challenge” relayed by social media or acts of copying. Speculation is rife as to how barbaric acts, some surgical, could be carried out without a solid knowledge of equine anatomy or on a horse in a pasture presumably capable of fleeing.
“A fearful horse in a pasture will not get caught. The horse who feels confident with people … he will come, will find it normal that you put a harness or a rope around his neck, “said veterinarian Aude Giraudet, head of the equine division at the prestigious National Veterinary School of Alfort , outside of Paris.
“I’m not sure you need a lot of horse knowledge,” said Giraudet.
“If I were in Normandy, I think I would be very, very worried about this epidemic,” she said.
Pauline Sarrazin, owner of a victim, Lady, created a private Facebook group Justice for our Horses after the savage murder of her horse on June 6 near Dieppe, on the Atlantic coast. Intended to share stories and advice, the group now has nearly 17,000 members. The horse world in France is more and more seized by fear.
The president of the French Equestrian Federation offered on Friday to help police investigate the scattered cases. Serge Lecomte said earlier that the federation would be a civil party in each case.
“We are all afraid,” said Véronique Dupin, manager of an equestrian club in Yvelines west of Paris, asking that the exact location of the team not be identified out of caution. His club installed cameras last year because of intruders, and someone sleeps there every night.
“Despite this, we are not comfortable,” she said, pointing out how vulnerable horses can be. “They may be big, but they’re lambs.