COURTENAY, B.C- A spike in rabbit deaths at the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds has led to a warning from the regional district.

According to Jennifer Zbinden, Senior Manager of Recreation Facilities for the Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD), concern from the public over an increase in rabbit deaths at the grounds led to a search of the area today.

The local SPCA chapter had been looking into reports of a rise in rabbits dying at the grounds over the past week and a half, with a highly contagious and deadly rabbit hemorrhagic disease suspect as the cause. The first outbreak of the disease was in earlier weeks around Nanaimo.

The disease can be carried on clothing, such as boots, and dog leashes, and survive on surfaces for an extended period of time.

During today’s search, three rabbit carcasses were found. Zbinden also stated that there was no trace of poison. The CVRD has since reached out to provincial authorities to determine what led to the animal deaths, while issuing a warning.

“We are asking residents who have domestic rabbits in their homes or on their property to avoid the Exhibition Grounds,” said Zbinden.

“If a member of the public spots a rabbit carcass on the grounds or anywhere in the regional district, please phone us at 334-6000 to make a report.”

The carcasses collected today were double-bagged and collected for testing.

“Once we have some carcasses that have been sent away to be checked by the conservation officers, and once we get the results back, further update will be provided,” said Zbinden.

Dr.Helen Schwantje, who serves as the provincial wildlife veterinarian for British Columbia, indicated that testing still needs to be done on the carcasses from the grounds to determine the cause of the deaths.

She also said the best disposal practice for any infected rabbits would be incineration, or deep burial in a local landfill.

An official cause for the deaths remains unknown.