A red deer has been killed in an alleged poaching incident in woodland near Inverness.
Police are appealing for information about the grisly occurrence, which happened overnight between Saturday and Sunday in the Black Wood of Leys and Tomfat Wood area, a few miles south of the city.
It is believed the suspects were disturbed before they were able to take the deer carcass away.
Wildlife crime officer Constable Daniel Sutherland said: “I would urge anyone who was in the area on the 1st or 2nd of July and saw anything suspicious to get in touch with us.
“We will continue to work with land owners, members of the public and partners to identify and disrupt poaching activity.
“Anyone with information is asked to contact Police Scotland on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 if you wish to remain anonymous.”
John Bruce, chairman of the priority group for poaching and coursing in the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Scotland (PAWS), said deer poaching is an ongoing crime which can be very cruel if unsuitable methods are used.
Although the sex of the deer is unknown in this case, Mr Bruce said there are critically important welfare risks depending on the age and sex of the animal, as a female would almost definitely have a dependent calf or kids which would be left orphaned and destined to succumb to the elements or hunger.
He added that a deer poacher could prepare a carcass for consumption from £2.50 per kilo upwards depending on the state of butchery. A red deer carcass could be sold for up to £200.
This poses human health hazards where illegal venison goes into the food chain without the necessary checks and safeguards.
Dick Playfair, secretary of the Scottish Venison Partnership, said: “Poaching continues to be a widespread problem. It’s no longer a ‘one for the pot’ activity, but takes place on a commercial scale and is often linked to other organised crime. It also takes place where deer can be frequently seen so the perpetrators are active where they have the most chance of success.”
The latest figures show that there were six deer poaching offences reported in the Highlands in 2015 – the most in all of Scotland.
Poaching eats into what is a multi-million pound industry nationally of game management for sporting purposes.
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) also estimate that an equivalent of 8,800 full-time jobs is supported by shooting and stalking in Scotland.