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Infectious disease wiping out neighborhood rabbits in Billings

No danger to humans or pets
Posted at 6:21 PM, Feb 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-28 11:32:05-05

It’s not unusual to see rabbits hopping around in neighborhoods all over Billings West End. It seems like they are everywhere- or at least, they were.

Neighbors in Casa Village have not only gotten used to seeing the animals and some have become quite fond of them, even giving them names.

“When I moved in here about a year and a half ago, I learned how much they want to eat all your stuff, so I got a greenhouse and raised garden so that the rabbits and I could live together peacefully,” says Susan Harding.

“We feed them about eight o clock in the morning. We buy loaves of bread to throw out to them,” said another neighbor Pat Breckinridge.

But things suddenly changed. The rabbits that were seemingly everywhere were nowhere to be found or were dying.

It baffled Diana Phelps.

“I said, 'Do you know what happened to the rabbits?' They are all gone," she said.

Bob Gibson of Fish Wildlife and Parks says the cause is a virus that is wiping out populations of feral rabbits, which are decedents of domestic rabbits.

“They are catching a virus called Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease, and it's fatal to rabbits. It spreads rabbit to rabbit, and it spreads more quickly where there are concentrations of rabbits. As you have seen in many of the parking lots and areas around the west end of Billings,” said Gibson.

Gibson says the virus poses no threats to people or other species and there have been no confirmed cases of the virus spreading into Montana's wild rabbit population, such as cottontails or jackrabbits, only feral rabbits.

Gibson says FWP has enough samples of the rabbits to know what's causing the problem. There's no need to call them if you do find a carcass. He says you should put it in a double bag and dispose of it in the trash.