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Roosevelt elk are at risk as poachers invade a remote Vancouver Island valley in search of highly prized parts of the animal. Hunting of the animal is prohibited in most parts of southern Vancouver Island. Corel Photo Studio

Members of the Nuu-chah-nulth territories are concerned by the latest in a series of illegal elk killings around Port Alberni, B.C.

Conservation officers estimate six animals have been killed since November. Abandoned carcasses have been found in varied states, some with hind or front quarters missing and others left whole, but with no indication of who committed the crimes.

"Our nations are definitely very disturbed and frustrated that such a thing would happen to such an important part of our wildlife system," said Ken Watts, vice-president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. "It's very disturbing to think of all those carcasses that were left over … that meat could've been brought in and actually fed families," he said.

The Roosevelt elk inhabits Vancouver Island. It is the largest subspecies of elk living in North America. To legally hunt the animal, hunters must participate in a lottery draw. No tags were allotted this season in the zone where killings have taken place. Although the Roosevelt elk is not endangered, biologists determined the herds are not big enough to sustain hunting.

Investigators speculate some carcasses may have been left behind with meat still on their bones after poachers fled before finishing a job or because the poachers were after only a particular part of the animal.

A male bull was the latest victim last month. "To think that our kids might not have access to elk in the future is a big concern to our nation," Mr. Watts said.

Steve Ackles, a B.C. conservation officer, said the animals are likely being targeted for the meat, but no trace of it has been spotted within the Nuu-chah-nulth communities, igniting speculation that it is being sold on the black market to private consumers or restaurants.

Members of First Nations groups go through a process to obtain hunting tags, and despite gaining permissions, many have chosen to leave the elk alone.

"A lot of our nations haven't even been going out or using their own tags," Mr. Watts said.

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