OFFICIALS have talked down fears of a virus wiping out Hinchingbrooke Country Park’s rabbit population after two animals were spotted suffering from the disease.

David Patton, 30, of Bliff Close, Huntingdon, took pictures of both rabbits showing symptoms of the fatal myxomatosis-causing virus while walking his dog in the park.

The first rabbit was snapped by the BMX berths in the park last month and the second, spotted last week, was by the underpass of the A14.

Rangers at the park say there has been no spike in cases this year, but vets have warned that pet rabbit owners with gardens backing on to the park should consider vaccinating their animals against the disease.

David Fennell of Cromwell Vets in Huntingdon said: "It is spread by biting insects, such as mosquitoes. They take the virus in and bite into another animal, thus spreading the virus.

"Only rabbits are affected - other animals cannot get it. However, if your garden borders the park, and you have rabbits, they ought to be vaccinated. There is a pretty good vaccine and it needs to be six-monthly.

"Myxomatosis tends to be more of a problem in the warmth of the summer or autumn near ponds or lakes."

Senior park ranger Peter Hobbs said any park users who spotted potential cases should contact the team.

"Myxomatosis is no more of a problem this year than it has ever been. If you do find any affected rabbits, please tell us and we can deal with that rabbit."

Two years ago, proposals to shoot or gas rabbits at the park were on the cards, after residents complained the animals were causing damage to their properties.

The current policy of country park owners Huntingdonshire District Council is to manage the population with fences. A rabbit-proof fence is in place around much of the periphery.

Mr Hobbs said: "It is our policy not to control any animals in the park. We manage the number of rabbits by fencing."

INFORMATION: To report sightings of infected rabbits call the park rangers on 01480 451568.