RHD2 has been present in domestic pet rabbits in Ireland for a number of years. It was first confirmed in the wild in Ireland in July 2019. The first two records came from rabbits – one in Wicklow, the other in Clare. The first report from an Irish hare came on the 9th August – an animal found dying in the Wexford Slobs Nature Reserve.
Since these initial incidents, a request for public involvement has led to more than 50 reports of dead rabbits and hares around the country. Each report has been followed up by the local NPWS ranger. From these incidents the disease has now been confirmed from six different counties – Cork, Clare, Leitrim, Offaly, Wicklow and Wexford.
A post mortem of each dead animal has been carried out by qualified personnel in the regional laboratories of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine. Tissue samples have then been sent to DAFM’s specialist virology lab in Backweston where the RHD tests take place. I am fully satisfied with the objectivity and expertise of the DAFM laboratories.
To date, of the hares tested, two have tested positive and one negative for the disease. NPWS staff around the country are continuing to monitor reports of wild rabbit and hare deaths to gain a fuller understanding of the extent and impact of this disease in Ireland. At least 4 more hares from three different counties are currently with DAFM for testing.
The ongoing monitoring of hare populations and health by the Irish Coursing Club is acknowledged and welcomed. Officials from my Department's National Parks and Wildlife Service will continue to engage with Irish Coursing Club representatives and DAFM with a view to developing an appropriate, effective and workable strategy to deal with the RHD2 virus and counter the threat it poses to the hare in Ireland in the longer term.