Minnesota college student Gunnar Boettcher and his brother managed to videotape what they have referred to as “the world’s scariest rabbit.” The creature in question has several horn-like protrusions on its head, which Boettcher believes to be symptoms of Shope papilloma virus. While strange-looking, the animal is no mythological beast. It is however, dying.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, wildlife supervisor Joe Strangel of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) agrees with Boettcher’s assessment. Strangel tells the SF Chronicle that he is awaiting confirmation of the disease from a veterinarian, but if the rabbit is in fact suffering from Shope papilloma, its fate is already sealed. The virus causes tumors to grow in rabbits, generally near the animal’s head. Eventually the tumors will grow large enough to interfere with the animal’s movement and it will starve. In most cases, the Shope papilloma virus is fatal and not altogether uncommon in rabbits. Stangel says the DNR generally lets nature take its course in these situations.
The growths caused by Shope Papilloma virus are often believed to be the origin behind stories of the jackalope, a mythical animal that combines features from a deer, pheasant, and jackrabbit. The common image of a jackalope involves deer antlers on top of a jackrabbit, similar to the horny growths on rabbits affected by the virus.
Video of Boettcher’s encounter is below: