So far, the Cowichan Valley appears to have escaped the outbreak of rabbit haemorrhagic disease that has killed hundreds of animals farther north on Vancouver Island, according to Sandi Trent, manager of the Cowichan Valley branch of the BCSPCA.
“I was talking to the manager in Comox and they certainly do [have the disease there] and Nanaimo certainly does but we have no reports from the public to our shelter,” Trent said. “Nanaimo had a bunch of rabbits that all succumbed unfortunately.
“I know there are pockets of feral rabbits in the Cowichan Valley but no one has reported anything. I don’t know if it’s just because people aren’t seeing them, or they’re just in areas where it’s more rural and people aren’t coming across the bodies, but I know they’re on high alert in Victoria. It’s pretty widespread from what I understand,” she said.
“I also know we’re all on lockdown in terms of intaking any rabbits that have been outside and a lot of the rabbit rescues are on careful watch and making sure that all their rabbits are in foster homes and not shelter situations outside. But that’s predominantly on the mainland.
“It’s pretty scary,” she said.
The B.C. government has confirmed that dead feral rabbits found recently in the Comox Valley did die of rabbit haemorrhagic disease.
The disease was first confirmed in Nanaimo in late February, where more than 300 feral rabbit carcasses were discovered near the Vancouver Island University campus. The bunnies were sent to the Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford, where it was confirmed they had developed rabbit haemorrhagic disease.
The highly contagious and lethal virus causes hemorrhages by affecting the rabbits’ blood vessels and attacking the liver and other organs.
Dead rabbits found in Delta were later confirmed to have had died from the same virus.
Residents in Courtenay, (located about 100 kilometres north of Nanaimo), reported a spate of dead rabbit sightings near the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds two weeks ago, stoking concerns that the virus discovered in Nanaimo had moved up-Island.
Jane Pritchard, the chief veterinary officer for the B.C. government and the executive director of the Plant and Animal Health Branch, says the virus is highly contagious to rabbits.
“We knew it was very contagious when we had the first confirmation, so it’s really not a surprise that it’s moved,” she said. “It certainly is a mystery how it’s moved, as Nanaimo and Comox aren’t exactly side-by-side.”
According to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, this is the third confirmed case of the virus and the first in B.C.
“The disease is exclusive to rabbits,” reads a FLNRORD press release on March 28. “Humans and other animals, including dogs and cats, cannot be infected. The virus affects only European rabbits, and is not known to affect native North American rabbits.”
Pritchard noted that B.C. veterinarians will have access to vaccinations for the disease in the coming weeks, and will be able to vaccinate pet rabbits.
The public is advised not to move domestic rabbits into the wild at any time.
As well, rabbit owners should take precautions when disposing of any rabbit remains.