THE poisoning of birds of prey in Ross-shire has been condemned as a 'moronic' crime which has deprived the area of a natural treasure.
MSP Dave Thompson made his remarks as police confirmed they are now treating the situation as a wildlife crime.
Police searches began on Monday this week with the death toll gradually rising to a total of 13 dead birds found within a two-square-mile area in the Conon Bridge/Muir of Ord areas.
Poison has already been detected in a number of birds recovered, according to police who are now appealing to the public for further help.
A total to that of thirteen birds of prey, nine red kites and four buzzards, have been found dead.
Police Scotland's Highland division said: "The birds were located within an approximate two square mile area to the south east of Conon Bridge around Conon Brae, Balvail, Leanaig and Alcaig.
"Post mortem examinations of the recovered birds is ongoing but the presence of poison in several of the birds has already been established. The presence of poison confirms our early assessment of criminal involvement in the deaths."
They are now working with partner agencies including the bird charity RSPB, the SSPCA, Scottish Agricultural College (SCA) and Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA).
Dave Thompson, the SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, has unequivocally condemned the poisoning of birds.
He said. “This is appalling news, these are beautiful creatures.
"A while back I visited the Tollie Red Kite Centre on the Brahan Estate and I feel for the folk there that possibly birds that they know and love are now victims of this senseless crime.”
“These birds represent a natural treasure that along with so many other natural treasures make Scotland the beautiful place it is.
“Not only that but they are part of the reason why people want to come and see Scotland for themselves, so they also are part of our natural economy.
“I cannot urge enough that the Police and other relevant authorities do everything in their power to catch these moronic criminals.”
Police have appealed to members of the public that if anyone finds any further dead birds or animals in the area they are asked to make a note of its location and inform the police on 101.
"Under no circumstances should anyone touch or attempt to recover any dead animal."
Police are keen to speak to anyone who has any information about the incident and ask them to call 101.
Crimestoppers can be called anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online at http://www.crimestoppers-uk.org/.
No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.