French police have been tracking down the perpetrators of a series of wild animal mutilations across the country in recent weeks.
Investigators have advised horse and donkey owners to be especially vigilant after more than a dozen attacks left animals dead or seriously injured.
The officers say they are mystified by the motives for the mutilations and are looking to see if they are related to satanic rituals or an online challenge.
In a recent incident, the owner of an animal shelter in Burgundy was taken to hospital with a knife wound after confronting two men who broke into the property and cut two ponies and horse.
In many attacks, animals are found with their ears, eyes, muzzle or other parts of the body removed or with serious injuries to the genitals.
The Ranch de L’Espoir, refuge for a hundred abandoned animals, mistreated and rescued in the Burgundy village of Villefranche-Saint-Phal, was burgled on Monday around midnight.
Nicolas Demajean, president of the ranch, said he was awakened by the panicked cry of two pigs. He stood up and confronted one of the intruders with his cane, and was slashed along his left forearm with a knife.
“I didn’t think I was scared then, I was just worried about the animals, but I’m at the end of my rope now,” he says. “I put one of our dogs on top of them but they ran away. We found out that they had cut two of the ponies and a horse. One of the ponies had several knife cuts, one of which was 50 cm long on the right side. The other was less severely cut but is extremely traumatized.
Demajean added: “I don’t know why, but they came here to kill for sure. It seems to be some sort of ritual. It is a really quiet village. We never imagined for a minute that this would happen here.
The shelter depends primarily on public donations and paying visitors, and its income has been affected by the coronavirus lockdown. “Now we have to find the money to pay the vet bills and try to install better security and cameras to protect the animals,” Demajean said.
Since the start of the year, at least 15 similar attacks have been reported across France. Police find it difficult to connect the incidents.
In one case this month, an 18-month-old foal was found dead in his pen at a riding school in eastern France. He had been stabbed in the heart and body parts had been removed.
In another incident, a horse was stunned and had its eye gouged out and a piece of leg bone was removed. The animal later died.
A national police spokesperson said: “We don’t understand what is behind this. Is it a satanic right, a macabre trophy hunt, or an internet challenge? We just don’t know. It’s very traumatic.
A spokesman for the Paris police said there were similar attacks in France, Belgium and Germany between 2014 and 2016.
British police have reported cases of what became known as “horse ripping” in the early 2000s.