Police Scotland has appealed for information into the “illegal” killing of two pregnant red deer on North Uist.
The remains of the hinds were found in a field near to the A865 between Bayhead and Kilmuir. It is believed they were shot around May 7 in the closed season.
A spokeswoman for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) said: “It is illegal to control adult female deer between April 1 and August 31 unless we give specific authorisation – and it is very rare we allow this to happen.
“We condemn any unauthorised culling during this period, when deer calves are most dependent on their mothers, and we urge people to report any instances to Police Scotland.”
Locals have long-held that deer numbers were excessive after numbers doubled since 1991, while others blame the deer for spreading lyme disease.
But both the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and the Association of Deer Management Groups labelled the incident a “wildlife crime”.
A spokesman for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “It is possible the illegal killing of the deer could have been caused by poachers.
“Unless granted a licence by SNH, killing deer out of season is a wildlife crime and all qualified deer managers are aware of that.
“The issue of deer numbers in the Uists has been raised before but we understand the local deer management group have been following an agreed management plan.”
He added: “In terms of lyme disease, there are a high number of factors which can be at play.
“Many mammals can carry ticks. Rats, geese, rabbits and mice are examples, not just deer.
“Sheep management and local regimes for treating sheep may all play a part so claiming that incidences of lyme disease are all down to deer would require more rigorous analysis.”
A spokesman for the Association of Deer Management Groups said: “Whatever concerns there may be surrounding deer numbers in this area, it is an offence to cull deer out of season without the appropriate authorisation having been issued and therefore absolutely appropriate that Police Scotland is investigating the matter as a wildlife crime.”
A police spokeswoman said: “The incident happened around May 7. The remains of the deer were found in a field near to the A865 between Bayhead and Kilmuir North Uist.”
A BBC Alba investigation revealed North Uist, South Uist and Benbecula suffered 165 cases of lyme disease between 2012 and 2016.
Despite having about five times the population, Lewis, Harris and Barra suffered only four cases.