Lethal rabbit virus highly likely to reach Victoria, says expert


WATCH: There are growing concerns about the deadly rabbit virus killing bunnies on Vancouver Island. Now that the highly-contagious virus appears to have spread to the Comox Valley, experts say it’s only a matter of time before it hits Greater Victoria. Isabelle Raghem reports. 

They may be small but Vancouver Island rabbits are facing a major problem.

“It is a very lethal virus in bunnies, death rates are sometimes about 90 percent,” said Dr. Tin Wai Kwan from Helmcken Veterinary Clinic.

Rabbit owners in Nanaimo are being told to be careful, after hundreds of wild bunnies have died from a hemorrhagic virus that damages their internal organs.

There are now suspected cases in the Comox Valley and experts say it’s only a matter of time before it spreads even further.

“The likelihood of it coming to Victoria is very high,” added Dr. Kwan.

The veterinarian said it’s due to the virus’ highly-contagious and hardy nature.

“People, clothing, they can travel through birds, they can travel through insects, they can travel through mammals,”

This means the disease could also spread to the lower mainland.

“The virus has been technically eradicated from Canada and the united states for over 30 years and it’s pretty tragic.”

This is the first recorded outbreak in B.C. and only the third in Canada. While there’s no vaccine here, there may be one in Europe that could help.

“It’s a major concern that this hasn’t been dealt with in a humane way in the past and its let to get to these circumstances,” said Jordan Reichert of the View Royal Rabbit Rescue. “And now it’s really concerning now the number is 300 dead rabbits.”

Just last week Reichert and a group of volunteers brought the last View Royal rabbits to a sanctuary in Washington ? they were rescued from the Helmcken overpass in recent years.

Reichert said authorities aren’t doing enough.

“I know an antidote is trying to be brought in but is it really going to solve a broader problem we have across B.C. of having these rabbits being dumped and colonies forming.”

While the virus only kills rabbits, such a major loss affects entire ecosystems, including animals like cougars who sit at the top of the food chain.

“If they don’t have their food source, then that’s gonna be a problem,” said Reichert.

It could be months before a vaccine reaches the Island, which means the number of rabbit deaths will continue to rise.

Isabelle RaghemIsabelle Raghem

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