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