The killing of a rare “spirit” moose in Canada has shocked residents of a northern Ontario community and prompted one First Nations man to offer a reward to anyone who can help officials apprehend the suspected poachers.

Residents around the city of Timmins have long swapped stories of a ghostly white moose population occasionally spotted moving silently through forests of aspen and pine.

But poachers recently killed two female moose, including one white cow. The remains, including their heads, were left discarded along a remote service road.

The moose are not albinos, but get their colour from a recessive gene. Among Indigenous peoples in the region, white animals like bison, raven and grizzly bears, are considered sacred and shouldn’t be harmed.

While the white moose have been spotted in the area for more than 40 years, it was only in the last decade that they won legal protections. They are not a distinct species, but throughout the region, signs warn against killing them – the only place in the country where such a law exists.

In 2013, a three hunters killed a white moose in the province of Nova Scotia, angering the local Mi’kmaq people. After they realized their mistake, the hunters returned the pelt to the Mi’kmaq so that a multi-day ceremony could be performed – but kept the head as a trophy. The Flying Post nation has also requested the pelt of the latest spirit moose returned to them so that a ceremony can be held to honour the moose.

Wildlife officials have asked the public to come forward with any evidence that could lead to charges. Woodhouse has also offered a reward of C$1,000 ($760).