SUNDRE, Alta. - A three-year investigation has resulted in Alberta RCMP laying charges in one of a series of wild horse killings in the Rocky Mountain foothills near Sundre.

And police hope that further charges in the other horse killings are soon to follow.

"We're still investigating each and every one of these instances," RCMP spokesman Sgt. Patrick Webb said Wednesday.

"None of the files have been closed and we have expectations that we will be able to resolve some of the other ones with more evidence and with more people coming forward."

Two men and one boy face charges under both the Criminal Code and Alberta's Wildlife Act in the shooting of a wild horse last year.

It was one of nearly 30 seemingly random shootings since the early 1990s of wild horses in the area, with bodies being left in the bush.

"They were just left there to be preyed upon by the scavengers," said Bob Henderson, a local resident who came across several of the kill sites.

"One was a mare just ready to foal - the baby was right there in the delivery channel," he said. "That one really hurt."

The latest shooting happened last April when three horses near a road were shot by someone using a high-powered rifle.

A $25,000 reward was offered to anyone who gives information leading to an arrest. There was no word Wednesday if the reward had been claimed.

Police, along with Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers, have been investigating the shootings since 2007, Webb said. The work was made more difficult by the rough, remote terrain in which they occurred.

"The terrain itself is in the foothills and mountains around the Sundre area and in addition these crimes were done in a very isolated area - very little likelihood of witnesses being present."

Henderson, president of the Wild Horse Society of Alberta, said there are between 300 and 350 horses in west central Alberta that have reverted to their wild state, although the provincial government pegs the number at around 600.

Alberta considers wild horses as stray domestic animals and not as wildlife.

Henderson's group has been lobbying the province to bring in legal protection for the animals, as was done recently in Saskatchewan.

"We think they should be recognized as part of our natural history and part of our culture and identified as wild, free-roaming horses instead of just feral, stray animals," Henderson said.

He said calling the horses feral or stray "feeds into the mindset" that it's OK to shoot them.

Jason Nixon, 29, and Earl Anderson, 40, as well as 13-year-old boy are to appear in court in Didsbury, Alta., on March 1. All three are from the Sundre area.

Nixon has also been charged with threatening and obstructing a Fish and Wildlife officer in connection with a poaching and trespassing investigation.

Police say charges are pending against a third man from the Calgary area.

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