PARIS (Reuters) - A 50-year-old jobless man was arrested in eastern France as part of an investigation into a spate of killings and mutilations of horses across the country, police and judicial sources told Reuters.
French media have reported more than 20 killings of horses and many more injuries in recent weeks, in a campaign of attacks on the animals that appears to have begun at the start of the year and accelerated last month.
Horses have been found with ears cut off, eyes gouged out and genitals mutilated. Police say they have no idea why; theories include a satanic rite, macabre trophy hunt or internet challenge.
Police launched a major search operation in eastern France's Cote-d'Or region, involving 40 officers and a helicopter, after a man spotted two people on his pasture on Saturday night, but the suspects got away.
"The operation is over, now we are investigating our findings. For now there are no clues," a police spokesman said.
A judicial source said Monday's arrest was linked to a facial composite of one suspect that police had published. The source did not say whether the arrest was a result of the Cote-d'Or manhunt.
Police have advised those who own or care for horses to monitor pastures and report suspicious behaviour.
Remy Marehcal, a farrier who shoes horses in the northern town of Preux-au-Bois, told Reuters he discovered a pony with its eye gouged out in July and two horses injured in August.
"At first, I thought it was accidental. I told myself, in a small village like this, it cannot be possible," Marechal told Reuters.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie were due to visit a horse breeder in the Oise region north of Paris where horses have been attacked. They will meet with horse breeders and investigators and discuss plans to stop the attacks.
(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Additional reporting by Pascal Rossignol and Yiming Woo; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Peter Graff)