Northern Manitoba chiefs are demanding answers after 30 dead caribou were found at the side of a winter road with only the antlers missing.

"This is lot of waste here that should never happen. And I want investigation on exactly who did this," Chief Joe Antsanen of the Northlands Denesuline First Nation told reporters in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

He was joined by Grand Chief David Harper of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), an organization representing northern Manitoba First Nations.

Antsanen made the discovery while driving to Winnipeg on a winter ice road near the community of Lynn Lake, Man., last week. It looked like the animals had been killed and dragged there, he said.

"The only thing I can think of is this is done just for trophy — just for sports — and that's totally, totally unacceptable," Antsanen said.

Harper said aboriginal hunters would never have done such a thing because First Nations use every part of the animal, including the meat and hides.

'Like killing parts of the family'

Michael Anderson, MKO's research director, said the Dene people hold the caribou in high regard.

"In their tradition, they believe that the caribou is a person in a different form, and so the caribou is literally the brother of the Dene," he told CBC News.

"So to see this wanton slaughter of 30 animals is like killing parts of the family."

According to Manitoba law, a hunter who kills or injures a big game animal must make every reasonable effort to retrieve it. It is illegal to abandon or spoil the meat.

"There must be an investigation done unto this. We need to find out who and why it was done," said Chief Jimmy Thorassie of the Sayisi Dene First Nation.

Thorassie said the wasting of such prime meat is particularly disgusting given the high cost of food in remote northern communities.

"The cost of food is outrageous," he said. "Why would we want to do something like this?"

The northern chiefs are also calling for more provincial patrols on winter roads to prevent something similar from happening again.

Manitoba government officials did not respond to the chiefs' concerns on Wednesday.

The chiefs say they have posted a reward for any information that helps track down the perpetrators. They are also planning a ceremony to honour the dead caribou.

With files from The Canadian Press