04/18/2014 09:25 EDT | Updated 06/18/2014 05:59 EDT

Elk poaching in B.C. alarms conservation officers

Poachers have killed at least seven elk in the Cowichan Valley raising concerns among conservation officers about public safety.

The illegal hunting of Roosevelt elk was first noticed in February. The bodies were left on private land, mostly in areas where hunting is not permitted because of public safety concerns.

Since then, conservation officers have found seven dead elk.

The elk were from different herds and all were female. Given the time of year, some of the elk may have been carrying calves.

Last month, someone shot into a herd of elk near Baynes Lake, south of Fernie, killing three of the animals.

Conservation officer Frank DeBoon told CBC that he has never seen such a random type of killing.

"The elk were all in good health, probably pregnant with this year's calves. There's no reason for it other than somebody deciding to shoot them."

The rash of elk killings has alarmed conservation officers because of public-safety risks and the potential for long-term health issues for the elk population.

The most recent elk killing was on a remote logging road near Castlegar.  Earlier this month a man collecting firewood on Mount Sentinel Forest Service Road  spotted carrion birds circling, a sure sign of death. When he went to the area, he found two dead elk.

In the most recent killings, nothing had been removed from the animals and they appear to have been shot from the road, says conservation officer Blair Thin.

"I can’t fathom the motivation for someone doing such a thing but it’s an extreme waste," says Thin.

In earlier cases of elk killing in February and March, the meat was removed from the animals.

The BC Wildlife Federation is offering rewards up to $5,000 for information leading to the conviction of anyone arrested for poaching.