The remains of 18 deer and a moose were found in a hay field and in the surrounding bush this spring just east of Bowden, about 100 kilometres north of Calgary, by brothers Glenn and Gary Norman.
The two men didn't think much of it at first since it's not unusual to find the occasional animal dead after the winter thaw. But then the numbers started to rise.
"We found one, two, three, four, and next thing we are up to a count of 12 dead deer lying in our hay field and one dead moose just off the edge of it," said Glenn Norman, 53.
"We did some checking in the bush and lo and behold we find a whole bunch more. We're up to 18 dead deer and one dead moose and that's not searching the entire quarter. There's no sign of trauma whatsoever."
"I think it was malnutrition or starvation due to the winter," said Chris Kelly, a district fish and wildlife officer from Red Deer, Alta., who investigated the incident.
"If they have a hard winter, their bodies begin to shut down and even if you they eat and eat and gorge themselves their bodies have shut down to the point that they can't absorb the nutrients."
The findings were unsatisfactory to the Norman brothers.
"We left the second-cut alfalfa out in the field (last fall). The animals had lots to eat," said Glenn. "They starved in alfalfa up to their bellies? Give me a break."
Subsequently, the Normans found the bodies of two coyotes, a fox, owls, magpies and a hawk were also discovered nearby. Some of the deer were found lying side by side.
Norman estimated there were likely more animals killed in the area, but because of the heavy bush the brothers have only been able search about 15 per cent of the property.
Kelly said he was unaware other animals had also died, but said there was nothing to suggest there had been any poisoning on the property.
"That's news to me. We don't have any of those samples," he said.
But Kelly maintained the deer that died were not healthy.
"Most animals, when they're starving, start to absorb their own bone marrow, which is their last energy reserve. We went to a couple of these deer and broke open their femurs and it was not the white, healthy bone marrow we like to see. These deer were in distress," Kelly said.
Darrel Rowledge, director for the Alliance for Public Wildlife in Calgary, said the deaths are mystifying.
"This is very suspicious. The first thing that comes to mind is some sort of poisoning," he said.
"This is strychnine or some sort of lethal poisoning. This is not mere winter kill."
Glenn Norman agrees. He said there is no sour gas activity in the area and the only thing that makes sense is some kind of toxic substance.
The Normans' hay crop comes from the land where the animals were found and they want to know if the feed will be safe for their cattle.
It's also a bit eerie wondering what happened, said Glenn Norman.
"It's disturbing. I'm used to our woods being alive and this spring... there are only a few animals now."
"There's always a few animals die but it's death on an industrial scale."