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Bighorn sheep slaughter baffles conservation officers

The animals were left untouched where they fell.

Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images/Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

In his 26 years as a conservation officer, Steve Wasylik says he's never before seen the brazen thrill-killing that has recently targeted bighorn sheep near Kamloops.

"There was simply no effort to recover the animals," Mr. Wasylik said. "They weren't trophy animals."

Over the past week, five Californian bighorn sheep have been shot dead in two separate incidents.

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Two rams were found near Lytton, about 150 kilometres southwest of Kamloops, on Dec. 13. The second incident occurred three days later, when two rams and a ewe were found shot dead on a ranch in the Big Bar area near Clinton, 120 kilometres northwest of Kamloops. There have been no further reported incidents.

"I'm an avid hunter and I don't just go out and shoot anything, and I think it's rare to find someone who has the mentality to think that it's okay to jump in a truck and go shoot a few things," Mr. Wasylik said. "If these two incidents aren't connected, then it's disturbing that there's that many [irresponsible]people out there."

Mr. Wasylik said although bighorn sheep are not an endangered species, just two hunting licences are raffled off once a year, allowing hunters to kill only one adult ram between the months of September and October.

The two incidents have baffled conservation officers. Not only were the sheep left untouched where they fell, Mr. Wasylik said the animals are very difficult to hunt. He said deer would be easier to hunt because there are more of them and they're easier to reach.

The flock of approximately 60 bighorn sheep that used to graze near the Clinton ranch have been scared away from the area.

Mr. Wasylik said the province's Wildlife Act has a sentencing provision that allows a judge to be creative in meting out punishments. He added that a $1,500 to $3,000 fine would be likely, but that a judge could also order the offender to do community service around wildlife habitats.

But that's only in cases where an offender is guilty of an isolated misdemeanour.

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"If the two cases were linked and we showed that someone was driving around shooting bighorn just because, then we'd be looking at jail for that," Mr. Wasylik said. "But if it's two isolated incidents, a couple of good ol' boys out who knows doing what, probably not jail."

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