Hunters who illegally poached an elk in a small Vancouver Island town may be in for an unpleasant surprise if they consume the meat.

The elk was one of two that had been spotted wandering around Youbou, B.C. with mesh and clothing lines wrapped around its antlers in recent weeks.

Last week, BC Conservation Officer Service located and tranquilized the massive animal to disentangle it, then tagged and released it.

On Friday, Conservation received reports that two elk had been illegally shot in the same area – a protected habitat off North Shore Road in the tiny town.

“We have reason to believe that the elk that was tranquilized may have been one of the ones that was taken,” said conservation officer Peter Pauwels. “The concern is that the animal was tranquilized with some tranquilizing drug that will stay in its system for about 30 days.”

Pauwels said he doesn’t know for sure what effect the tainted meat would have on anyone who eats it, but it won’t be fit for human consumption until the drug wears off.

“We suspect that if there was effects to be felt, it would be in the nature of sedation or tranquilizing,” he said. “It’s probably not going to be life-threatening, but it is something that most people are not going to want to experience.”

The animal in question wasn’t a trophy specimen and was likely harvested for its meat, according to Pauwels.

He said hunters should know animals with ear tags are off-limits, and if they are accidentally harvested they should be reported to the BC Wildlife Branch.

“Even though we’re not sure that the tranquilized animal has been taken, we want to get the message out because this meat could be distributed to other people as well,” he said.

Youbou has seen a higher-than-normal number of entangled elk this year, Pauwels said.

It’s a concern for conservation officers because the male elk are at a disadvantage when it comes to sparring against other bulls during mating season.

Pauwels urged anyone who spots suspicious hunting activity to call the COS call centre at 1-877-952-7277.