WATCH: Officials are hoping the highly-contagious virus that’s killing rabbits in Nanaimo won’t spread to other parts of Vancouver Island. It’s the first time the naturally occurring virus has been recorded in BC they’re warning people to take precautions to help stop its spread. Kendall Hanson reports.
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.