Oakland, CA – September 8, 2020… Oakland Zoo’s focus on species conservation now includes playing a critical role in a multiple agency effort to help prevent the possible extinction of the Riparian Brush rabbit. The sub-species is threatened by Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus(RHDV2); a European-borne virus that has spread rampantly to many species of wild rabbit populations across the United States.
In partnership with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Geological Survey, and River Partners, Oakland Zoo, ten ‘rabbit captures’ have been conducted in the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge in Modesto since August.
"Our amazing partners agreed on extremely short notice to house twenty of our rabbits as insurance just in case the disease gets here…. the Zoos effort is incredible and an incredible partner to the agencies in the department", says Deanna Clifford,Senior Wildlife Veterinarian at California Department of Fish and Wildlife during a rabbit capture trip in San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge.
Over the past three weeks, twenty captured rabbits were brought to Oakland Zoo’s veterinary hospital; undergoing thorough physical exams and receiving the RHDV2 vaccination. For now, the rabbits are being closely monitored by Zoo veterinarians and staff to ensure that the vaccination has no adverse effects, and thus far, are doing very well.
Prior to this conservation effort, the RHDV2 vaccine has only been used on domestic rabbits - these twenty rabbits serve as a safety trial for the use of the RHDV2 vaccine in the field, on wild population(s). For now, the monitoring of the rabbits at Oakland Zoo in the coming weeks and months will be key to predicting the success of more widespread vaccinations of this sub-species and perhaps other rabbit species in the wild, both regionally and nationally.
"Conservation of species is very important to Oakland Zoo, both in captivity and in the wild. We, and all AZA-accredited zoos, play a unique role in conservation, in that we are able to use our extensive knowledge animals and the care to also aid in saving those in the wild," says Darren Minier, Assistant Director of Animal Care,Conservation & Research at Oakland Zoo.
Following the monitoring period, and once the project is deemed a success, the twenty Riparian Brush rabbits will be returned to the wild at the SanJoaquin River National Wildlife Refuge in Modesto. Oakland Zoo will then help administer vaccinations to an additional 200 rabbits in the wild to protect them from the Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus.
Rabbits are an essential part of ecosystems as herbivores and as a primary food source to other animals. This program will help maintain their place in the ecosystem for the future, avoiding a negative cascading effect, creating a chain reaction effecting the survivability of countless interdependent species.
Regardless of financial challenges due to COVID-19 this year, Oakland Zoo continues in the practice of rescuing, rehabilitating, and head-starting animals for release back into the wild. This includes many species like the California condor,Mountain lions, three species of Yellow-legged frogs, and more. The Zoo continues to support their twenty-five conservation partners worldwide and advocate in Taking Action for Wildlife.
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ABOUT OAKLAND ZOO AND THE CONSERVATION SOCIETY OF CALIFORNIA:
Oakland Zoo, home to more than 750 native and exotic animals, is managed by the Conservation Society of California (CSC); a non-profit organization leading an informed and inspired community to take action for wildlife locally and globally. With over 25 conservation partners and projects worldwide, the CSC is committed to conservation-based education and saving species and their habitats in the wild. Oakland Zoo is dedicated to the humane treatment of animals and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums(AZA), the national organization that sets the highest standards for animal welfare for zoos and aquariums.
ABOUT THE RIPARIAN BRUSH RABBIT AND THE RIPARIAN BRUSH RABBIT CONSERVATION PROGRAM:
This subspecies of Brush rabbit is found only in old-growth riparian forest and riparian communities dominated by willow. Less than 1% of historic range is in intact and they are listed as endangered by CA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Due to Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHDV2)entering the state both government agencies have been working to develop a plan to prevent extinction if the virus hits the remaining small, isolated population. The Conservation Society of California – Oakland Zoo has been asked to help possibly in two ways. Part one holds a small number of rabbits in captivity at Oakland Zoo to test vaccines' efficacy and safety in this species.Part two is less likely but would be to remove larger numbers of rabbits from the wild to be held in captivity as a founder population if the rabbits become extinct.