Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters


Officials say they’re not sure of source of rabbit killing virus in Nanaimo

March 5, 2018 Kendall Hanson, CHEK News

It's a disturbing sight for those walking near Vancouver Island University: rabbits lying dead near campus grounds. "It's sad because they're cute creatures," said Darlene Mah who has seen close to 20 dead ones during walks in the past week.

At a Park Avenue sanctuary, close to 200 rabbits have died. The owner says she's still too devastated to be interviewed.

At Nanaimo's Animal Control Services, they've collected about 50 rabbit carcasses. Their freezer is full and there are likely many more. "Because many of them are going to die in their burrows and we won't be aware of them," said Carley Colclough of Nanaimo Animal Control Services.

The province sent three of the rabbits for testing and found the animals are dying from rabbit hemorrhagic virus. It's a first for B.C. and only the third time the virus has been recorded in Canada.

"It's probably a source from domestic rabbits and Vancouver Island has a fair rabbit breeding population so it may be that someone had a young rabbit that was immune to the disease but carrying it and may have just let it go," said Dr. Helen Schwantje, BC's Wildlife Veterinarian. "I think it's purely conjectured where it came from and how it got here."

The province is trying to determine the strain of the virus which may give some indication which part of the world it came from. Nanaimo has an issue with feral rabbits. The city is working on a strategy to deal with the problems the rabbits' cause, such as holes in fields and the undermining of buildings. Other countries such as New Zealand have introduced the virus to help control feral populations. "I can categorically say I'd never be part of that," said Schwantje. "It hasn't happened. That's not what we're doing."

The province says the virus won't infect other animals but it is extremely contagious. Rabbit owners are being warned to be extremely careful with their animals.

Nanaimo rabbit owners are being cautioned after outbreak  

March 6, 2018 excerpt from Global News 

A viral outbreak in the Nanaimo area has veterinarians warning residents to make sure they're following proper hygiene practices. Vancouver Island residents are being warned to not release their pet rabbits into the wild if they're sick, and to instead take them to a veterinarian.

Provincial Wildlife Veterinarian Helen Schwantje says this is because a rare deadly virus has been discovered infecting the animals in the Nanaimo area after dozens of feral rabbits were found dead.

She said the Calicivirus only affects domestic rabbits, so she believes someone released their pet into the wild. "[It] initially causes a fever, and that fever is very high. The virus attacks the cells of blood vessels and causes hemorrhages, and causes some pretty severe death of cells in organs like the liver and the kidneys. So it basically attacks everything at the same time, causes hemorrhages, and the animal dies very quickly."

Comment: We have spoken to the refuge owner, and the number of deceased rabbits has climbed to 250. Day after day there are dying rabbits and bodies that have to be picked up and buried. It’s something nobody should have to deal with.

While officials have not determined the source of the ‘rabbit killing virus’ in Nanaimo, plenty of theories abound. The outbreak originated at the University of Nanaimo, so could it be foul play and somebody with the education deliberately released the virus?  

Over the years, government agencies and others have expressed using lethal control to eliminate populations, citing the European rabbit as an’ invasive species and a pest.’ A University of Victoria Director of Campus Planning falsely claimed they’re ‘dangerous’ vectors for disease. So much for intelligence and compassion.

March 6, 2018 update: The number of deaths of feral rabbits on VIU campus has now climbed to 60, up from 30. There is no vaccine in BC to protect European (domestic) rabbits from this fast-spreading and deadly virus. Ian Welch, director of veterinarian services and research support at UBC says “the virus has a short incubation period of one to two days and can run through an entire population of rabbits in as little as 13 days.” It can also easily spread on surfaces like shoes and car tires. A vaccine exists, but Welch said it takes weeks to kick in, so it wouldn't help with an initial outbreak.

NB: The RHD virus is passed in large amounts in the droppings of infected rabbits and can also be spread by contact with rabbit products, rodents, and contaminated objects. It is very hardy, easily withstanding heat and cold. The use of RHD as a biological control agent has been used in Australia and New Zealand in efforts to reduce populations of European rabbits. Not only is this dangerous, it is inhumane, unethical, and largely ineffective. Further updates: Pasteurellosis and other illnesses; food pyramid; 2018 deadly rabbit virus hits mid-Van. Island, spreads beyond

Read more: Domestic Rabbit Abandonment PDF 3

Rabbit Facts, misinformation on rabbit vaccines corrected by Gooch; 2018 RHD Nanaimo

Abandoned rabbits in Ladner/Delta and Mission; relocation 2012, Env. Ministry; predation, dumping consequences; Jan./18 park rabbits shot