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Rabbit virus release to start in Southland next week

Rabbit virus release to start in Southland next week

An initial release of the RHDV1 (K5) rabbit virus on three sites in Southland will be made from next week, if the weather permits.

Senior biosecurity officer Dave Burgess said rabbits are less of an issue in Southland than in other areas of New Zealand, which is why a smaller scale release is planned, but further releases of the virus may be made at a later date.

K5 is a virus that could reduce the rabbit population significantly. It’s a variant of a virus that’s already present in New Zealand, and only affects the European rabbit. Approval to import and release the virus was given in late February.

Dave said the virus needs to be released before the weather turns colder, so now is the optimal time.

“While it spreads naturally between rabbits, it does rely on flies to spread it further and fly numbers decrease as the weather cools.”

Landowners are asked not to move any rabbit carcasses so the virus can be allowed to spread naturally. Moving carcasses can dilute the strength of the virus and result in rabbits being immune to it.

Dave said the release of RHDV1 K5 is another tool in the toolbox to assist with control, but it will not eliminate the need for landowners to have a control plan in place. Rabbit control remains a landowner responsibility and Environment Southland’s biosecurity team provides advice and support to landowners to ensure rabbit control is carried out effectively.

Owners of pet rabbits are reminded to ensure their vaccinations are up to date. The vaccine available in New Zealand has been helping to protect rabbits from the current RHDV1 for many years. Studies undertaken by the Australian government indicate that this vaccine will help protect pet rabbits against the RHDV1 K5 strain.

“Pet rabbit owners are advised to talk to their local veterinarian to ensure their rabbits have the best protection available.”

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