A deadly disease that caused large deaths among wild and domestic rabbits in the Northern, Western and Eastern Cape between October last year and February this year is, according to the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), a problem again.
According to initial reports received from parts of the Northern Cape last year, rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHDV2), a rabbit haemorrhagic disease, has spread rapidly throughout the Cape Provinces. The most recent reports indicate that the disease is currently active in the Knysna area in the Western Cape and in the Langkloof area in the Eastern Cape.
Bonnie Schuman, Nama-Karoo coordinator of the EWT, says the disease affects rabbits and rabbits and cannot be transmitted to humans and other animals.
“Among rabbits, however, RHDV2 is highly contagious and it is mainly transmitted by direct contact. However, the disease can also be transmitted by flies and scavengers that feed on carcasses, as well as clothing, shoes, car tires and even by the wind.
“Rabbit owners are advised to isolate their rabbits safely and avoid contact with other rabbits or rabbits. In terms of the Animal Diseases Act, it is the responsibility of the owner to prevent the spread of the disease,” says Schuman.
In cases where a pet rabbit dies, the owner is advised to contact the local vet or state vet for advice on the safe disposal of the carcass. All affected surfaces and contaminated clothing must be cleaned with bleach and warm water.
Schuman says the disease could spread nationwide and if it follows the same pattern as recorded in the US, small outbreaks could result in national spread.
The EWT is currently working with state veterinarians and provincial conservation authorities to monitor the spread of the disease.
Conservationists are particularly concerned about the effects the disease is having on wild rabbit populations, as mortality rates can be as high as 80%.
“We don’t know what the effect will be on the critically endangered shore rabbit – which occurs in low numbers and often in fragmented populations,” says Schuman.
“Smaller, isolated populations of rabbit species are at high risk of disease as there may not be enough surviving individuals to maintain the genetic diversity and health of the population.”
According to Schuman, there are currently no options available for vaccinating wild rabbits, a limited number of doses of vaccine are available for pet rabbits and rabbit owners are advised to contact their local vets for more information.
“The vaccine is not yet registered for use in South Africa and is therefore not yet freely available. Rabbit owners must work through their vets to access the vaccine.”
The EWT appeals to farmers and members of the public to report unusual deaths (rabbits found dead in the field without any visible sign of trauma) to (email protected) and the nearest state veterinarian.
“Farmers with bank rabbits on their farms are requested to monitor the bank areas carefully and report any bank rabbit deaths immediately to the EWT,” says Schuman.