A spate of reported dead rabbits in the Comox Valley has some residents concerned that a rare bunny virus recently discovered in Nanaimo has made its way up-Island.
Multiple Courtenay residents have claimed they noticed feral rabbit carcasses this week at the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds. Others stated they noticed a recent drop in the area’s usually high bunny population.
The BC SPCA Comox Valley & District Branch made a post about the issue on its Facebook page March 14, asking residents if they had seen deceased rabbits.
The groundskeeper at the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds said he’d picked up some dead rabbits lately but was hesitant to say if it was a higher amount than usual. He said he is instructed to bag any dead bunnies he finds in the future so they can be sent off for tests.
Comox Valley resident Debbie MacKay told Black Press she also noticed a lack of rabbits at the fairgrounds this week.
“I live [near] the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds and have found numerous dead rabbits over the last week with no obvious signs of injury,” she wrote in an email. “There used to be 40 to 50 rabbits on the 40 acres of ground, now only two or three.”
Concern among Valley residents is likely due to a recent virus affecting Nanaimo’s rabbit population.
In early March, the B.C. government issued a warning to pet rabbit owners on central Vancouver Island after an estimated 300 feral rabbits were found dead throughout Nanaimo.
Some of the rabbits were sent to the Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford, where tests found they had developed a rare and lethal virus called rabbit haemorrhagic disease.
The highly contagious virus causes a fever, convulsions, and kills rabbits within 36 hours.
“It is the third confirmed diagnosis of this virus in Canada, and the first in British Columbia,” reads a March 2 press release from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development.
The ministry says the disease is exclusive to rabbits and that other animals — including dogs and cats — cannot be infected.
Helen Schwantje, a provincial wildlife veterinarian, confirmed that a few rabbit carcasses from the Comox Valley are being sent for testing early next week.
“Any freshly dead animals, if we can retain them or submit them to the lab for confirmatory testing… until then, I suggest people practise good hygiene,” she said.
“I think the groundskeeper has done a great job so far by picking up the carcasses.”
—With files from Karl Yu/Nanaimo News Bulletin