Rabbit Population Threatened

Article Image Alt Text

A disease of potential global significance has emerged and appears poised to wreak devastation upon wild rabbit populations across the world.

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 (RHDV2) has been spreading around the globe since first detected in France in 2010 and has demonstrated its virility by successfully reducing wild rabbit populations 60-70 percent in as little as two to three years. Severe outbreaks have been documented in France, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and now in North America. Clinically confirmed cases have been found in wild rabbit populations in Quebec (2016), Vancouver (2018), and in domestic rabbits in Ohio (2018), British Columbia (Canada), Washington state, New York (all in 2019), and most recently Chihuahua (Mexico) (April 2020).

In spring 2020, a core area including parts of New Mexico, Texas and Arizona experienced a severe outbreak that is affecting all species of wild rabbits significantly, with concomitant food chain implications on predators that feed on these species (including some that currently are listed threatened or endangered species). This disease is specific to rabbits and poses no risk to humans.

The effects of this disease emerge very quickly, with death occurring soon after first exposure. Carcasses of dead wild rabbits are being found out in the open in large numbers in affected areas. Symptoms documented thus far include fever, lethargy, anorexia, unusual vocalization, a general wasting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, bleeding at the eye, and neurologic disfunction. At this time, there is no treatment for the disease. Given the widespread and seasonally abundant distribution of cottontail rabbits throughout the East, the level of devastation anticipated should the virus reach the area could be staggering, especially when considering the predator/ prey role rabbits play in the ecosystem.

Given this severity, wildlife authorities through out the East are establishing surveillance protocols and are asking the public for assistance in monitoring for early appearance of this disease. Here in Virginia, any occurrence of what normally would seem to be an unusually large number of dead rabbits should be reported to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (formerly Game and Inland Fisheries) office nearest to the site of occurrence. Given the disease’s demonstrated capability of spreading to domestic rabbits as well as wild animals, concern also is high about the potential impact on domestic stocks as well, so both pet owners and commercial rearing facilities need to be on alert for presence. Again, this disease is specific to rabbits and poses no risk to humans.

Thanks go to Dr. Jim Parkhurst, Extension wildlife specialist with Virginia Tech who provided the content of this week’s column. There is a USDA fact sheet on this disease is available at: https://www.aphis. usda.gov/publications/animal_health/fs-rhdv2.pdf. Printed copies of this publication are available from the Rockbridge Extension office and can be acquired by calling 463-4734 or by e-mail at stanleyt@vt.edu.

The News-Gazette

The News-Gazette Corp.
P.O. Box 1153
Lexington, VA 24450
(540) 463-3113

Email Us

Facebook Twitter

Latest articles