A newly established southern Vancouver Island elk herd is in trouble after two pregnant females were illegally killed by poachers.

The first carcass was found at Sandcut Creek two and a half weeks ago. Another was found this week close to a Jordan River access road.

Provincial conservation officer Peter Pauwels said this is a devastating blow for a herd this small.

"That's really four animals out of a total of less than 10, so it's set that back years," Pauwels told All Points West host Robyn Burns. "It may actually force them to move out of the area."

The area east of Jordan River is prime elk habitat, but the animals had previously been hunted out of the region. Pauwels said this new herd — likely a splinter group from a larger herd near Port Renfrew — has only been in the area for about three years.

"That's a pretty short period of time, [but] they did have an established group there," Pauwels said. "There were females. There's a bull in there as well. They were breeding. They were an established group that was getting larger.

"With elk, it's safety in numbers. The smaller the group, the more vulnerable they are, so this has really set them back."

Elk a high-value species

Pauwels said local First Nations are both disappointed and angry about the killings.

"They realize what's taken place here," Pauwels said. "There was an opportunity for this herd to grow, and to grow to a point where there could be a harvestable surplus of them if they'd been allowed to do their thing. Now that's not going to happen, probably."

Pauwels said cases like this are taken very seriously, because elk are considered a high-value species on Vancouver Island. They also spook less easily than other game, making them more vulnerable to poachers.

"Sometimes they're not as careful as, say, deer," he said. "They have a tendency to stand there and they become easy targets."

Unless someone comes forward with information, Pauwels said the case is unlikely to be solved.

Hunting of elk is strictly regulated in B.C. Penalties for poaching include seizure of hunting equipment, suspension of hunting privileges and a maximum fine of $25,000.

Map: Sandcut Creek area


To hear the full interview, listen to the audio labeled: Poachers deal devastating blow to new Vancouver Island elk herd