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Canmore experiencing sudden and unexplained feral rabbit deaths

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Rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD) is a sudden, highly contagious, fatal viral disease with an unidentified cause.

CANMORE – Several wild rabbits have died in Canmore, but tests have yet to be done to confirm if it is a deadly disease that kills rabbits in Calgary.

Longtime resident Andrew Duff said he noticed a dozen rabbits that normally live on the street near Riverside Park had completely disappeared over the weekend of November 11-13.

He and others in the community, who have reported on social media the sudden and unexplained death of a rabbit in Canmore, are suffering from rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD), a sudden, highly contagious and fatal rabbit viral disease. I thought it might be a disease.

“I found a single dead rabbit in the front lawn. No obvious signs of trauma…it was just lying there, no injuries or anything. Just dead.

“I can confirm that there are healthy rabbits in the street. You literally cannot walk down the street without seeing four, five, six or more rabbits.

Jennifer Davis, a trained veterinary pathologist and associate professor at the University of Calgary School of Veterinary Medicine and head of the Department of Diagnostic Services, said RHD had not yet been identified in Canmore.

She noted that there are many things that can cause sudden and unexpected deaths in rabbits at this time of year, such as bad weather or starvation, or other infections or trauma, which can lead to the death of individuals or large groups of rabbits. It may cause

“But one potential cause of increased mortality in rabbits that look healthy one day and are dead the next is rabbit hemorrhagic disease, caused by a highly contagious virus. I’ve confirmed it in the Calgary area, so it’s possible in Canmore too, certainly not confirmed yet, but would love to know.

“If people see it, please contact state authorities through the town of Canmore or the Wildlife Disease Unit. We will bring the carcass to a lab for post-mortem and viral testing so we can confirm the diagnosis.” If it’s there.”

Initially, Duff thought the rabbit might have been poisoned, so he decided to warn some of the neighbors, including one who had been letting the cat outside.

He warned the town of Canmore about a rabbit that died in his garden on November 17th.

“Then I wondered if what was happening was because of that disease. From what I understand, it can wipe out a lot of people in 24 to 48 hours,” he said. I got

The temperature was -10 to -15 degrees Celsius at the time, and Duff said it wasn’t too cold when he found a dead rabbit in his yard.

“It wasn’t the cold that suddenly wiped them out. It was definitely something else,” he said.

Canmore town officials say they are aware of recent social media discussions about dead rabbits, but city officials say they have not found any bodies that can be sent for testing. increase.

“This is something we’ve been aware of and have been monitoring for some time,” said Caitlin Miller, Manager of Conservation Services for the town of Canmore.

“Rabbit populations typically decline at this time of year. .”

With increased awareness of RHD outbreaks in Calgary this fall and Edmonton last year, Miller said the town of Canmore is in communication with Alberta.

“We’ve been talking to the state over the summer about what the risks are,” she said.

“We have a wild rabbit management program, but there is a risk that we don’t want to infect other wild animals in the wild.”

Additionally, Miller said the town of Canmore reached out to local wildlife biologists earlier this week to inquire about their testing process when the rabbit carcass was found, and also contacted Dr. Davis on November 24. Stated.

“She gave me a process on what to do and how to submit a rabbit for testing if I came across one,” she said.

Meanwhile, the town of Canmore has an ongoing wild rabbit capture program run by an independent contractor. In 2018, the Bow Valley Human-Wildlife Coexistence Task Force raised hares and their ability to attract large carnivores to towns in search of food as a serious concern.

According to the city, 288 wild rabbits were captured from mid-January to early April this year, a 57% increase from the previous year’s 180. In 2021 it cost him $51,341 and in 2022 he cost him $53,076.

Since the trapping program began in 2012, $587,000 has been spent removing 2,130 hares, at a cost of $275.56 per rabbit.

The current budget set aside for 2023 is $55,000, but the administration has set goals in the Council’s strategic plan, including proposing an additional $35,000 for hare management for the council’s consideration during budget deliberations. I have submitted a list of ideas that will help move the

“An option is to spend a little more on wild rabbit capture and get more rabbits each year,” town CAO Sally Caudill said at a recent conference.

“We can work on more rabbits, and with more money, we can do more, but that’s a decision the council makes.”

According to Miller, hares are an invasive species and are managed in Canmore.

“They are damaging our municipal infrastructure, people’s homes and private property,” she said.

Miller said he hopes to start catching rabbits a little earlier as part of an annual contract next month instead of January 2023.

“Just prior to the start of January, we are doing targeted trapping in some areas with high rabbit populations,” she said.

According to Davies, rabbit hemorrhagic disease is highly specific to the rabbit and hare species.

“It will not spread to other pet animals, humans, other wildlife species in the area, or livestock within the state. This is an important caveat. This is very specific to rabbits,” she said. Told.

The strain of the disease is RHDV2 and can be transmitted between wild domestic rabbits and indoor pet rabbits.

It also poses a risk to native rabbits and hares such as hares, cottontails and snowshoe hares. Although pikas are listed as a potentially susceptible species, Davis said there are no known cases of infection in pikas.

She said that this new strain of RHDV2, unlike previous strains that only infected European rabbits, originated in European rabbit populations and did not pose a threat to wild lagomorphs in North America. rice field.

“However, in 2020 things changed in the United States, and they noticed that the RHDV2 strain had spread to wild hare populations, killing quite a few jackrabbits and cottontail populations,” she said. I was.

“Therefore, we are closely monitoring the situation to see if this virus only affects wild domestic rabbits or if there is a potential risk to our wild rabbit species.”

Two animals from Calgary, identified as mountain cottontail sent to the laboratory, were recently positive for RHDV2.

“They died from rabbit hemorrhagic disease, so we are monitoring the situation very closely,” Davies said.

“We want the public to be notified, not only if we are seeing wild rabbits going extinct, but also if we are seeing our native species dying.”

According to Davies, RHD has sporadically occurred in various parts of North America in recent years. In 2018 British Canadian he was first spotted on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands in Columbia, killing a significant number of rabbits.

She said the virus had been confirmed in several locations in Alberta, including the Taber area in spring 2021, a small outbreak in Edmonton in fall 2021, and a large outbreak in the Calgary hare population this fall. I said that there is.

“It appears in these very remote geographic areas and in most cases we don’t know how it got introduced to that area,” Davis said. It’s a virus.”

The disease is not contagious to humans, but is spread among rabbits through direct contact with infected saliva, runny nose, eyes, urine, faeces, blood, infected fur or carcasses. It can also be spread by infected objects.

Rabbits usually become ill within 1 to 5 days after exposure to the virus. After a short period of illness, death is common. Sudden death may be asymptomatic.

“Because of the many indirect transmissions, the virus is in the environment and is so hardy that it can be carried from one area to another on car tires, by eating birds and insects. , it sticks to the soles of people’s shoes,” Davis said.

“I think it can spread from one place to another because there can be a lot of indirect infections.”

Dead rabbits can be reported to the City of Canmore at 403-678-4244.

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