The B.C. forest ministry says investigation into the source of rabbit hemorrhagic disease, that has led to numerous rabbit deaths, is not feasible and results would likely be inconclusive. (News Bulletin file)

Province says probe ‘not feasible’ into deadly virus killing rabbits in B.C.

Nanaimo Animal Control Services estimates 450-500 dead rabbits have been recovered

The provincial government says it won’t be investigating the source of a deadly virus that has led to numerous rabbit deaths in the Nanaimo area.

After a number of dead rabbits were reported in the Rotary Bowl stadium area in late-February, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development issued a statement warning of the “extremely infectious and lethal” rabbit hemorrhagic virus. Six rabbits from Nanaimo were tested and all were positive, it said.

Helen Schwantje, a wildlife veterinarian with the ministry, told the News Bulletin the virus is native to domestic rabbits of European origin and pet rabbits were at risk.

In an e-mailed statement, the ministry said “an investigation is not feasible and results would very likely be inconclusive, as previously experienced through investigations where outbreaks have occurred in other parts of the country.”

The ministry said tests were conducted on 17 rabbits from a number of areas, including Nanaimo and Comox, with 12 being feral (wild, but descended from domestic rabbits) and five domestic (pets). Eleven of the feral rabbits tested positive, while all five domestic rabbits were negative.

Feral rabbits submitted from regions where the disease has been confirmed are no longer being tested, said the ministry. A vaccine will be available for rabbit owners in the coming weeks, it said.

Carley Colclough, Nanaimo Animal Control Services’ pound coordinator, estimated that animal control services has recovered between 450 to 500 dead rabbits since late February, but it has been slowing down.

“We’re getting a lot of calls about one or two rabbits at a time instead of 15 to 20 at a time, and I think that’s because it’s probably moved through the larger populations and now we’re finding just the odd one in someone’s yard or on the sidewalk or something like that, but we’re not getting nearly as many calls from Beban Park or Westwood Road where there had been previously big populations,” said Colclough.

Colclough said the highest concentration of dead rabbits was in the Beban Park area with approximately 20 to 30 a day during the second week of March. She also expects that many infected rabbits crawled into their burrows and died as well, although there is no way to know for certain.

Leon Davis, branch manager for Nanaimo’s B.C. SPCA, said a moratorium on accepting bunnies remains in place.

“I think animal control is still picking up rabbits daily and we’re still finding them sporadically and until we get more information from the ministry to how long it can persist in the environment, we’re not transferring out any animals at all so our vehicles don’t spread anything … we’re just trying to do our best to limit any impact we have,” said Davis.

Anyone who sees dead rabbits is asked to contact animal control services at 250-616-0233.



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