Rab­bits toughen up to virus

Macclesfield Express - - WILDLIFE -

I PRE­SUME most peo­ple have heard about the great myx­o­mato­sis out­break in the 1950s that killed off 95 per cent of the rab­bit pop­u­la­tion in the UK.

But do peo­ple re­alise that this hor­ri­ble dis­ease re­turns to our rab­bit pop­u­la­tion on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, maybe even an­nu­ally?

And worst of all, the virus is, at least in part, man-made. It was re­leased in Aus­tralia in the 1930s and 1990s for rab­bit pop­u­la­tion con­trol.

The first out­break in the UK was in late 1953 and it was en­cour­aged as an ef­fec­tive con­trol mea­sure – plac­ing sick rab­bits in bur­rows to spread the dis­ease. Hunters were asked to specif­i­cally tar­get in­fected rab­bits – not great sport! I un­der­stand the need to con­trol crea­tures and plants when num­bers reach cri­sis lev­els but to con­trol them with a dis­ease that causes skin tu­mours, blind­ness, pneu­mo­nia and in­flam­ma­tion of the lungs, lead­ing to a lin­ger­ing death that could take two or 14 days, is pretty hor­rific.

It doesn’t sur­prise me to hear of the Myx­o­mato­sis Pres­sure Group which is call­ing on the gov­ern­ment to find ways to com­bat this dis­ease with a pe­ti­tion.

And it gives me a whole lot more sym­pa­thy and re­spect for the majority of rab­bits hav­ing grown resistant to the killer virus and in­creased hugely in num­bers over the past 50 years.

Rab­bits have it tough any­way with preda­tors in­clud­ing farm­ers, foxes and all kinds of birds of prey, but they keep on in­creas­ing and are a common sight in our coun­try­side. If I am out early enough in the morn­ing I do see dozens on my walks with the dog – he is too busy wan­der­ing through life look­ing for ladies to no­tice rab­bits dash­ing in front of him.

Rab­bits were in­tro­duced into the coun­try by the Nor­mans and can be found ev­ery­where from sand dunes, open fields and forests to many ur­ban ar­eas. They live in large groups in bur­rows.

Rab­bits don’t hi­ber­nate but they slow down, which makes it eas­ier for preda­tors to catch them in win­ter when food is thin on the ground.

The cud­dly rab­bit is ac­tu­ally well suited to its habi­tat, with long ears to lis­ten for preda­tors, eyes that help them see almost 360 de­grees and pow­er­ful hind legs help­ing them to set off at a gal­lop if nec­es­sary. They can be brown or grey with a brown tail.

Rab­bits should be able to live up to be­tween nine or 12 years – old­est recorded was 18 – but with all the slings and ar­rows that they face there is lit­tle chance of many of them get­ting any­where near that.

To support the work of the Wildlife Trust for Lan­cashire, Manch­ester and North Mersey­side, text WILD09 with the amount you want to do­nate to 70070.

Michael Sayles

●● Rab­bits have had to tough it out against many threats in­clud­ing the cruel virus myx­o­mato­sis

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.