French authorities said they’re investigating the killing and mutilation of up to 30 horses and ponies in pastures across the country.
Officers are looking into whether the motive for the slayings in recent weeks is linked to satanic rituals or an online challenge.
The reported mutilations include up to 30 incidents of horses being found dead with their ears sliced off, eyes removed, genitals cut, sides slashed and blood drained without meat taken from the carcasses.
“We do not understand the motivation,” a police spokeswoman in Paris said. “Is it a satanic rite, insurance fraud, some macabre trophy hunt or an Internet challenge? We don’t know. It is very traumatizing.”
The incidents have caused fear in the equine community.
Nicolas Demajean, who runs a refuge for about 100 abandoned, mistreated and rescued animals, Ranch of Hope, said his arm was injured while he struggled with a knife-wielding intruder, while another slashed two ponies in their sides.
He said the ponies were traumatized but recovering.
“I used to have confidence putting my horses out to pasture,” Demajean told TV station France 3. “Today, I have fear in my gut.”
Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie described the incidents as “acts of barbarism” in a tweet.
“All means are mobilized and implemented to put an end to this terror,” he added.