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A disease that’s killed hundreds of feral rabbits in British Columbia has prompted a Metro Vancouver zoo to take precautions to protect its bunnies and those of the public.

Menita Prasad, animal care manager of the Greater Vancouver Zoo, said four of the animals have been placed under prolonged quarantine to guard against the spread of rabbit hemorrhagic disease.

The virus that affects European rabbits has been detected in the Vancouver Island communities of Nanaimo and Comox as well as in Delta, B.C.

It includes fever and convulsions and kills a rabbit within 36 hours.

Ms. Prasad said the rabbits were quarantined on March 14 and three of them were available for viewing only during the Easter weekend.

She said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) recommends the animals be kept in isolation for 60 days, but the zoo’s rabbits will remain quarantined until a veterinarian clears them for interaction with the public to guard against the fast-spreading virus.

“Even just from petting, from saliva, from feces, from contact with any contaminated material, it could potentially be transmissible to any other rabbit species,” Ms. Prasad said. “Not only do we want to safeguard our own animal collection, we don’t know how many of our visitors have pet rabbits at home and we definitely do not want to risk anything happening to their pet species.”

Ten other rabbits that were acquired by the zoo in early March have been under quarantine since then as part of the zoo’s standard 30-day isolation period, Ms. Prasad said.

“We’re hoping that we would be able to have them for our family farmyard area through the summer, but it really just depends on what the CFIA recommendations are on the disease.”

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease was reported on Vancouver Island earlier this year and B.C.’s chief wildlife veterinarian said it was the first instance of the virus in the province and only its third confirmed appearance in Canada.

The B.C. government said a vaccine is not yet available in Canada,s but the illness is not known to affect native North American rabbits, cats, dogs, horses, other pets or humans.

Dr. Bruce Burton, a veterinarian on contract with the zoo, said a vaccine would have to be imported and it’s not known if it would be effective.

“This is a disease we have no familiarity with, it just showed up,” Dr. Burton said. “The virus appears to be fairly resilient and it’s known to be present in Australia, Africa, China, Cuba and Europe.”

It’s possible people travelling from those countries with rabbit fur or even something on their shoes could have brought the virus to British Columbia, although birds may have also carried it over, he said.

“In this particular case, there’s a clear and present danger to make sure that none of those rabbits did get exposed to the public and the public exposed to them,” he said of the quarantined bunnies.

The Canadian Press

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