NUMBERS of rabbits killed by an outbreak of myxomatosis at a Huddersfield nature reserve ran into thousands.
The disease was spotted at Dalton Bank Nature Reserve in December, when dog walkers began finding dead or dying rabbits with inflamed eyes and ears.
Those are the key symptoms of the disease, which is spread by blood-sucking insects such as fleas.
The disease causes deafness and blindness before death.
Now the disease has died down - but thousands of rabbits have perished.
John Avison is environment co-ordinator for chemical company Syngenta, which manages the 50-acre reserve.
He is confident the rabbit population will recover.
"The disease is almost too successful," he said. "It wipes out a population, which in turn means it wipes itself out after a while.
"There are very few rabbits left now. Most of those in the woods have gone, but there are some in the factory grounds which have survived.
"I think it's because they don't intermix with the general rabbit population as much.
"They will become the nucleus for the future rabbit population. It will take a few years, but they will come back."
Mr Avison said there had been little that Syngenta could do to control the outbreak, other than wait for it to subside.
However, teams did shoot any rabbits they found dying slow deaths.
He added: "The disease is getting a little weaker than it used to be and more rabbits are surviving.
"But they spend a fortnight deaf and blind and are usually killed by predators. It is a horrible way to die."
* Myxomatosis affects both wild and domestic rabbits, although many people have protected their pets with £25 vaccines
* The incubation period of the disease lasts from five to 14 days
* The first symptoms are a swollen head, face, ears and lips and puffy eyes
* Most animals die within 12 days
* Fewer than one in 10 wild rabbits beat the virus