An outbreak of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV), a highly contagious disease caused by a Calicivirus, is inflicting huge losses on rabbit farmers in Oyo State.
Calicivirus was first discovered in China in 1984, and has been found to be a swift rabbit killer, giving little warning, and sometimes without any symptoms to the hare.
Rabbit meats are in high demand for their richness in iron, a mineral the body requires to bolster the human immune system. However, the outbreak of this infection is depleting the population of rabbits rapidly, especially in Oyo State.
An Oyo rabbit farmer, Oyelami Josephine, said she lost over 350 mature rabbits and 150 newborns to the disease since its outbreak in June.
She quantified her loss at N5 million, an impact that has been debilitating on her business.
“I’ve fumigated the entire environment more than four times now, and I have used gas flaring to burn all the galvanized hutches, and some that are mixed with wooden. I’m reconstructing new galvanized hutches and by January I will be restocking with improved breeds. I have some improved breeds kept in some people’s farm,” she told newsmen.
The impact of Calicivirus has spread to other rabbit farms, says Onaolapo Farouq, founder of Olayimika Farms in Oyo.
He said: “I lost 57 rabbits actually. Ten fully matured Hyla rabbits that cost N23, 000 each, 20 weaned hyla doe that I would have sold for N10, 000 each, 15 weaned hyla buck that each goes for N4, 000 each, seven New Zealand White grower at N8, 000 each and five English spotted weaned rabbit at N5,000 each. In all, my losses are in the region of N567, 000.”
The vice president of Oyo State Rabbits Breeders, Abayomi Okunade, said he has lost no less than 500 rabbits whose monetary value was more than N1 million since the outbreak.
He lamented that rabbit farmers in the state have been battling the outbreak by self-help.
“I tried to fumigate my farm, and I heat up the whole cage area. The government doesn’t know that we exist. We are just trying to create awareness,” he said.
But the director of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development in Akinyele local government of Oyo State, Ibikunle Abiodun Ismail, said the government has the resources to support rabbit farmers.
“The extension service organ trains farmers, and if they have to seek for loan, there are established institutions like Bank of agriculture. The support is both financial and technical. The technical aspect is being handled by agricultural development projects. They train farmers, sponsor programmes on radio and television to educate them.
“We also have the veterinary department in the state and in all the local government. If they have any complain, they go to the veterinary doctor of the state, they come to the local government as well, and they will render services to them to prevent the disease which they will pay at subsidised rate.
“There’s also annual vaccination program for ruminant and non-ruminant animals,” he said.
A veterinary physician and senior lecturer at the Department of Veterinary Pathology, University of Ibadan, Dr. Gbenga Alaka, explained that Cacilivirus is new in Nigeria because it was first reported in August.
“We believe it was introduced through the importation of some exotic rabbits into the country,” he said.
He advised rabbit farmers against introducing animals from infected stocks to their farms.
“They have to quarantine any animal they are buying, and ensure they are not from an infected source. And if you already have the disease on your farm, you should clear out your stock, properly clean, disinfect the pen, allow to rest for six months before you introduce a new set of rabbits,” he said.
He counseled farmers against treating animals themselves, rather, allow professionals to come to their aid and offer proper diagnosis so as to mitigate the problems.
Another veterinarian and lecturer at the University of Ibadan, Adeola Olusoji, said the best way to prevent infection in a pen from new animals should be to quarantine them for at least fifteen days before they are mixed with the others.
A specialist of small and laboratory animal testing, Dr. Odumuyiwa Adejumobi, who also teaches at the Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Ibadan, said farmers should embark on strict bio-security which involves discouraging strangers into their colony, and those working in the farm should always keep themselves clean by washing their hands, clothes, and equipment with soap, water and disinfect regularly.