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Madrid: Spanish police said Thursday they had opened an investigation into the suspected poisoning of nearly 50 street cats that could see the perpetrators serving several years' jail time under a new animal welfare law.

The incident occurred in La Carlota village just outside the southern city of Cordoba, with local residents discovering the bodies of at least 10 cats on December 31 at the local dump where the colony was based.

They alerted the animal rights party PACMA which on Tuesday filed a complaint with the Guardia Civil police over "the mass poisoning of a 47-strong feline colony".

"Some of the animals were found inside nearby containers while others were lying in the street with only one survivor, a young male cat which is in very poor state," said the complaint, a copy of which was seen by AFP.

The rest of the cats had disappeared, with a PACMA spokeswoman saying they were believed to have died in the nearby woods after the poison took hold.

In response, officers from the Guardia Civil's nature protection service Seprona were dispatched to the scene on Wednesday to investigate, a spokesman for the force said.

"They are looking into whether the deaths were due to poisoning or from other causes. And if there was a crime, to identify the culprits," he added.

Under terms of a new law that came into force in September, anyone found guilty of cruelty leading to an animal's death could face up to three years behind bars, up from a previous penalty of 18 months.

In a separate operation, police said Thursday they had smashed a ring which allegedly imported puppies from Hungary and Slovakia and then sold them in Spain with forged documents.

Officers arrested eight people and rescued over 100 animals during four searches they carried out as part of the operation, a police statement said.