A Paris police spokesman said about 10 horses were killed and their corpses mutilated this year in different parts of France, often in remote meadows. Another horse was found dead with its ear missing near the village of Châtel-Guyon, in central France, last summer.
A spate of similar cases was reported between 2014 and 2016. National police are assisting local forces, but there are no clues as to the culprits.
“We do not understand the motives. Is it a satanic rite, insurance fraud, some macabre trophy hunt or an internet challenge? It is very traumatic,” the spokesman said.
Several different breeds of horses have been targeted, and one donkey, she added. In all cases, one ear was mutilated. The horses were not killed to be eaten, as no flesh was taken from the carcasses.
Never before have so many horses been killed and horrifically mutilated in France in such a short time, she said.
The macabre series began on February 12, when a member of the staff of an agricultural college in Moselle, near France’s eastern border with Germany, found the corpse of four-year-old Gold des Luthiers lying in its paddock.
Three days later, a racehorse trainer’s son found the body of Démon du Médoc, with an ear removed. Philippe Boutin, the trainer, said: “I think they made him gallop and he died of heart failure, and then they cut off his ear.”
In April, Sainte Riquet, a two-year-old filly, was found dead by the daughter of Stéphanie Gachelin, who breaks in horses. “At first we thought it was a natural death, then we discovered traces of wounds, and one of her ears was missing,” Mrs Gachelin said.
Two other horses were found with wounds, one on the head, the other on the haunch.
Horses have sometimes been illegally shot dead for meat in France, but Mr Boutin said that had been ruled out in the recent cases. One horse was electrocuted, apparently using a portable generator, and others appeared to have been stunned or killed by a blow with a large stone before being mutilated.
Under French law, “acts of cruelty or mistreatment of an animal” are punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of €30,000 ($49,000).