On May 20, 2022, wildlife veterinarians with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) were notified that an endangered animal
Learn more about the riverside brush rabbit, who was found deceased at the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge and tested positive for rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2), a highly contagious and often fatal disease for rabbits. The disease spread rapidly throughout the western United States.
“This is a discovery that we hoped never would happen, but one that we planned for by implementing a proactive vaccination effort,” said CDFW Senior Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Diana Clifford. “We are in the very early stages of understanding the effects on the species now that RHDV2 has reached the sanctuary.”
Since August 2020, a multi-partner team has vaccinated riverside wild rabbits to protect part of the population in the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge and adjacent habitat. the team – USA Fish and Wildlife, CDFW, Oakland Zoo, River Partners, California State University, Stanislaus, California Department of Food and Agriculture, and California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory—have implemented an ambitious program that has safely Administration of villavac RHDV2 vaccine to 638 rabbits.
“This will be the true test of the effectiveness of our vaccination efforts, which are part of a larger conservation effort to restore habitat and restore populations of riverside brush rabbits,” said Kim Forrest, director of the St. Louis National Wildlife Service Complex.
RHDV2 was first observed in wild rabbits in the southwestern United States in March 2020 and has spread rapidly to many states. In California, cases of the virus have been detected in wild rabbits in Alameda, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Benito and San Diego counties. Cases of domestic rabbits have also been confirmed in Fresno, Sonoma, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties. RHDV2 is not related to the new coronavirus and does not affect humans or pets other than rabbits.
River brush rabbits are found in small patches of remaining riverine forest habitat in the northern part of the San Joaquin Valley and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Since vaccinations require trapping and giving injections to each individual rabbit, it is not feasible to spread vaccinations to wild rabbit populations except in cases where populations are small and endangered. CDFW has received reports that live rabbits are still observed in areas where the virus has been confirmed, giving biologists hope that some rabbits are surviving the infection.
While the effect of RHDV2 on the endangered river brush rabbit is not yet known, biologists monitor the rabbits closely using camera surveys and tests to determine if additional cases are occurring in the shelter or nearby habitat.
“The vaccine has been shown to be very effective against the virus in pet rabbits, and we hope that some riverside brush rabbits will have immunity and survive over time,” Clifford said.
The public can help by reporting any sick or dead wild rabbits to the CDFW, where wildlife vets continue to monitor the situation. Anyone living, working, or reproducing in a wild rabbit habitat may report sightings of sick or dead rabbits to the CDFW Wildlife Health Laboratory at (916) 358-2790, or submit an application. Online Mortality Report Through the CDFW website.
CDFW’s RHDV2 webpage Includes fact sheets and information about the virus, how to report sightings of dead rabbits, strategies to prevent the spread of human-caused disease, a link to CDFA resources for local rabbit owners, and a USDA interactive map showing counties where disease has been confirmed in domestic and/or wild rabbits and / or wild.
Ken Paglia, CDFW Communications, (916) 825-7120
Jackie D’Almeida, US Fish and Wildlife Service, (916) 207-8385
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