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New rabbit biocontrol agent to be released in Tasman

27 March 2018

New rabbit biocontrol agent to be released in Tasman and Nelson

Tasman District Council, in conjunction with MPI and other Unitary and Regional Councils throughout New Zealand, will be releasing a new improved strain of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV1 K5) for the control of feral rabbits. The RHDV1 K5 virus is being released at 5 locations around the district during early April 2018.

The previous release of the virus in 1997 has become less effective and as a result the new K5 virus strain has been imported from Australia, to revitalize the biocontrol of feral rabbits throughout the country.

The new virus, RHDV1 K5, is fatal and specific to European rabbits, and does not affect hares or any other animals. There are no human health risks associated with RHDV1 K5.

Advice to Pet Rabbit Owners

While the release is only to 5 specific locations throughout Tasman and Nelson, owners of pet rabbits are advised to get them vaccinated to protect them from the new K5 strain. The same vaccine vet clinics have used in the past for inoculating pet rabbits to protect them from the 1997 RHDV1 is used for the new 2018 K5 strain.

Vets throughout the District have been contacting the owners of rabbits already, with many vaccinated in group inoculations. If any owner has not heard from a vet they should contact the local clinic to find out how they can get their pet protected. The K5 virus spreads rapidly through rabbit populations and is spread by rabbit-to-rabbit contact and by flies.

Another tool in the toolbox

It is important that those property owners with rabbit problems clearly understand that the RHDV1 K5 strain is another tool in the toolbox for rabbit management. It is not a new virus in New Zealand. It is a Korean strain of the existing RHDV1 virus that is already nationally widespread.

In a recent release in Australia the new K5 virus overcame the protective effects of the benign Calicivirus (RCA-A1), found in the feral rabbit populations in both Australia and New Zealand.

While the K5 strain is by no means the ‘silver bullet’ for feral rabbit eradication in New Zealand it is expected to ‘boost’ the effects of the existing RHDV1 strain and will assist in knockdown in the short term and slowing the increase in rabbit numbers in the longer term.

RHDV1 K5 will only be available to approved agencies and individuals for use under strict regulations and best practice guidelines.

A controlled release is preferable to ensure a higher-quality commercially prepared product is made available and that the release can be appropriately managed and monitored. This approach will increase the likelihood of success and maximise benefits to farmers and the environment.


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