VICTORIA -- Since the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Vancouver Island conservation officers say they have tracked a troubling spike in Roosevelt elk poaching.

According to officials in the Cowichan Valley, at least 15 elk have been illegally killed in the region since mid-March.

Making the situation worse, conservation officers say most of the elk were females and many were pregnant.

“Some elk are being harvested for meat, but some are just skinned,” said Duncan conservation officer Robin Sano.

Sano says that just last week, he found the carcass of a tiny male Roosevelt elk near Skutz Falls outside of Lake Cowichan.

“It couldn’t have been more than a year old. I don’t know how much meat you can get off that,” he said.

Roosevelt elk

Roosevelt elk are listed as a threatened species in British Columbia.

Vancouver Island is home to one of the only pure strains of Roosevelt elk in the world. They can also be found in B.C.’s Interior and Montana, according to B.C.’s conservation service.

In rare occasions, wildlife biologists do allow a small number of island elk to be hunted, but the season does not begin until the fall. This makes all current killings illegal.

Wildlife officers cannot say what the exact motivation for the poaching’s are, but do know that there has been increased pressure on outdoor areas since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“I’ve seen increased use on island waters and in the backcountry,” said Sano.

With conservation services seeing an increase in elk poaching up and down Vancouver Island, officers say tips from the public are really the only way these cases get solved.

The service is pleading with Vancouver Islanders to come forward if they know anything about the illegal hunting.

“People know. People are having elk meat for dinner and it’s out of season,” Sano told CTV News Vancouver Island.

Anyone with information on any of the incidents is asked to contact the Report all Poachers and Polluters 24-hour line at 1-877-952-RAPP (7277).