The discovery of four dead feral rabbits in Parksville heralds the return of a confusing and horrific disease.
The rabbit haemorrhagic disease was discovered in the animals of a long-standing colony at a Parksville residence. This is the second time the rare disease was found on Vancouver Island. In the summer of 2018 it decimated feral rabbit populations in the mid-Island area, painfully killing them over several days through blood clots, convulsions and fever before the animals slip into a coma and die.
The 2018 outbreak was the first time the disease was found in B.C. and only the third time in Canada.
B.C.’s chief veterinarian Dr. Jane Pritchard said this is also the first time the virus has re-occured in an area it already ravaged.
“Everything about this is very strange,” she told NaniamoNewsNOW. “This is a very confusing disease to deal with.”
Even after analyzing carcasses from 2018, Pritchard said it’s unclear how the rare disease developed on Vancouver Island, why it afflicted only certain rabbits and why it suddenly disappeared at the end of May, 2018.
“We were hoping for a smoking gun saying it started at one place or the other and find someone who had maybe gone back and forth. But that wasn’t the case and it became more and more confusing.”
Pritchard said the disease found on the West Coast also doesn’t behave like other strains found throughout the world, such as in Europe and Australia where it’s used as rabbit population control.
The disease is not only deadly but highly contagious. It can survive on nearly anything, such as shoes, clothes and other animals.
Pritchard stressed anyone with European rabbits rigorously clean themselves and rabbit cages, as well as stay away from areas where the disease is known to occur.
Vaccinations were widely shared after the 2018 scare and Pritchard said there is a “much better protected rabbit population going into it this year.”
If anyone discovers a dead feral rabbit they’re urged to call conservation officers, who will submit the animal to the lab for testing and help monitor the spread of the disease.