Wild Rabbits Dying Of Gruesome Disease In Malibu, SM Predators Food Chain Threatened

Written by on June 8, 2021

Wild rabbits in the hills of Malibu have begun dying from a disease that has never before been seen in our area.

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease … a highly infectious and deadly form of viral hepatitis … has been found in a dead wild rabbit in Ramirez Canyon.

It can spread to pet bunnies … and it has a 70 to 100 percent mortality rate.

A caretaker near Ramirez Canyon last month saw a wild rabbit in the throes of dying a terrible death …

It was shaking uncontrollably … flopping about … the poor creature had blood coming from its nose.

It died.

The landowner used gloves and wrapped the rabbit’s carcass in plastic … froze it … and called California Fish and Wildlife.

The frozen rabbit was shipped to U C Davis …

There … Fish and Wildlife Department veterinarian epidemiologist Meghan Moriarty made the diagnosis.


It has been detected on California as of May 2020 and more recently in Los Angeles County … but this is the first time it has been detected in Malibu.”

The disease first emerged in Europe in the 1970s … a form of viral hepatitis. 

In the 1980s it spread to China … and killed 14 million farmed rabbits there.

But only domestic rabbits … not wild rabbits.

But a decade ago … a variant emerged in Europe that can also kill wild rabbits.

Now … it has a foothold in wild Malibu.

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease cannot spread to humans … or cats and dogs.

The chance for human transmission is next to zero.

But … viruses can make the jump between species … as humanity has learned with Covid-19.

That means … if you find a dead rabbit … both it and its surrounding area should bet treated as a biological hazard.

Moriarty says use gloves and bleach.


If you see rabbits … wild rabbits that look like they have died from this disease … if there is blood around the nose or mouth … or a large number of dead rabbits seen in an area then they shouldn’t be touched.

And if they do need to be touched … proper biosecurity measures should be taken like wearing gloves and spraying down the area with a 10 percent bleach solution ..

“Ideally carcasses should be buried or animal control or animal services can be called for incineration.”

And the worry now turns to the food chain … in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Rabbits make up a significant part of the diet for birds like owls and hawks … and for mammals like coyotes … bobcats and mountain lions.

worries about cascading effects.


In Europe and Australia we have seen population level effects on rabbits and also on their predators.

“So we are doing all we can to monitor the disease.

Regular citizens can report dead wild rabbits to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife … and dead domestic rabbits can be reported to the California Department of Food and Agriculture … and that helps us track the disease.”

Veterinarian Meghan Moriarty at U-C Davis.

Pet rabbits can be inoculated against the two types of virus.

Call your vet … and keep your bunny in quarantine until then.

(C) 2021 KBUU

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