Oakland Zoo has vaccinated hundreds of Riparian Brush rabbits in Modesto's San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge since the program launch in 2020.
The Riparian Brush rabbit is a small cottontail, one of eight subspecies of brush rabbit native to California. They live in oak forests with a dense understory of wild roses, grapes, and blackberries. This small and lively rabbit is only found around the San Joaquin River, Stanislaus River, and South Delta channels. These rabbits are threatened by a deadly virus known as Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease, as well as severe loss of habitat. The population size is unknown, but likely less than 2,000 in total. Their place in the web of life is critical -- losing this species would have a disastrous effect on countless other species.
About 90% of the places Riparian Brush rabbits live have been destroyed due to the growth of cities and farms, flood control, and dams. These rabbits are also being decimated by the Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV2), a European-borne virus that has spread rampantly to many species of wild rabbit populations across the United States and Mexico. Though the virus only attacks rabbits, it can be easily spread by birds, insects, or scavenging animals and is persistent in being infectious up to 3 months. Once contracted, the onset of symptoms (quickly followed by mortality) occurs within 3-9 days. RHDV2 has created a lagomorph crisis across the globe. In May of 2020, the first RHDV2 case was detected in Riverside, California, threatening the Riparian Brush rabbit.
Oakland Zoo is vaccinating wild rabbits to aid in their resistance to the deadly RHD virus, increasing their chance of survival when reintroduced into the wild. Wild-captured rabbits are brought to Oakland Zoo’s veterinary hospital where they undergo thorough physical exams and RHDV2 vaccinations. Afterwards, they are closely monitored by Zoo veterinarians and staff to ensure that the vaccination has no adverse effects. Tiny video cameras are also used to watch the rabbits via computer, offering the least amount of intrusiveness on these wild animals.
Following the monitoring period, and once the project is deemed a success, the Riparian Brush rabbits are returned to the wild at the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge in Modesto. Oakland Zoo helps administer vaccinations to additional rabbits in the wild to protect them, too, from the deadly virus.
Prior to this conservation effort, the RHDV2 vaccine had only been used on domestic rabbits — these rabbits serve as a safety trial for the use of the RHDV2 vaccine in the field on wild populations.
Oakland Zoo is working with State and Federal agencies to foster an insurance population, ensuring that this species will not go extinct if the wild population is decimated.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is an agency of the United States Federal Government dedicated to working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife manages and protects the state's wildlife, wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, algae, and native ecosystems.
The United States Geological Survey is a scientific agency of the United States government tasked with studying the landscape of the United States, its natural resources, and the natural hazards that threaten it. The organization's work spans the disciplines of biology, geography, geology, and hydrology.