Dog walkers have been warned to beware of dozens of deadly DIY snares tied to fences along public footpaths.
The homemade copper wire nooses are designed to trap rabbits but could easily kill a pet dog.
One walker found 40 of them in one 100-metre stretch of the railway embankment fence between Loughton and the A5.
He is now urging other animal lovers to carry wire clippers and destroy the snares whenever they see them.
Meanwhile the Citizen has reported the snares to the RSPCA, who have launched an immediate investigation.
It is believed rabbits killed in the snares overnight are collected by mysterious white vans parked near the A5 roundabout early some mornings.
“Somebody is obviously killing rabbits on a large scale to eat them or sell them on as food. It’s probably quite a lucrative business,” said one witness.
But this week the snares almost had lethal consequences for a much-loved family dog.
The owner, who is to scared to be named, was walking his spaniel after dark when he heard loud squealing from a dying rabbit.
“My dog rushed to the fence to investigate. I managed to grab her just in time before she put her neck through the snare,” he said.
“It terrified me how close she’d been to getting strangled by this wire. I decided to check for other snares - and within a couple of minutes I’d collected about 40 of them.”
The walker has asked the Citizen to warn other dog owners.
“These things could be everywhere. My dog had a lucky escape, but others could so easily be killed.People need to carry wire clippers wherever they go until these cruel people are caught.”
RSPCA inspector Sue Haywood this week was examining the seized snares.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act has strict regulations about snaring rabbits .
It is illegal to use self-locking devices from which the animal cannot escape. Setting snares on public land can be against the law if other species are put in danger. Penalties of up to six months imprisonment can be imposed.