A Manitoba researcher was shocked to discover someone had killed more than 50 garter snakes at the site of his study.

The sheer numbers of slithering snakes in Manitoba's Interlake, has made the area world famous, and University of Manitoba biology student Neil Balchan visits the area often for his research. 

"My honors thesis is essentially garter snake based research," said Balchan.  "I'm studying movement behavior, and kind of usage of climactic cues in the environment."

Balchan visits his research site near Inwood, Manitoba three times a week to monitor how the snakes are doing.  On Thursday, he discovered many were not doing well at all. 

"There were dead snakes everywhere," he said. 

Someone had killed more than 50 of the snakes. And Balchan said whoever did it wasn't gentle.  "They were killed fairly brutally," said Balchan. "Some were clobbered with rocks, and sticks, whatever was around. And then there were animals just decapitated with their heads cleanly cut off."

One snake appears to have been shot in the head. "This wouldn't have been a quick death at all," said Balchan. "And it obviously would have been very painful."  And that puzzles Balchan, who says the snakes aren't a threat to anyone.

"I have no explanation for it. I've been thinking and trying to rationalize it. And there's no reason in my mind that someone would go out into the wild and do that kind of damage to an animal."

In a statement, the province tells CTV News:

"Manitoba Sustainable Development is aware of the incident.  And while the incident as described is disturbing, we understand this incident was outside the Narcisse Wildlife Management Area, so in this case they would not be protected."

Balchan wants people to learn more about these reptiles.  He hopes that knowledge will help prevent incidents like this from happening again.