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Release of Calicivirus (RHDV K5)

Due to an increasing number of landholders reporting wild rabbit impacts on their land, North Coast Local Land Services will be helping landholders coordinate the release of the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) K5 strain of calicivirus across numerous sites in the region over the coming months.

Owners of pet and farmed rabbits are encouraged to ensure they have appropriate biosecurity measures in place to minimise the chance of their rabbits becoming infected. This includes such things as vaccination and ensuring access by wild rabbits is prevented.

Rabbits are estimated to cause over $200 million dollars in damage to Australian agriculture every year, and they are recognised as a potential threat to at least 304 native threatened species.

Rabbits graze on native and introduced vegetation, crops and pastures and grazing can prevent seedlings from regenerating and reduce crop yields. Rabbits not only compete with livestock for feed, they can damage native plants and directly compete with native wildlife for food and shelter. Their digging and browsing leads to a loss of vegetation cover, which in turn can result in slope instability and soil erosion.

Wild rabbits have been identified as a priority species in the North Coast Regional Strategic Pest Management Plan and calicivirus is used as a very effective control method in susceptible populations.

Dean Chamberlain, Team Leader Operations, Invasive Pests with North Coast Local Land Services said, “The release of calicivirus is a strategic approach to the management of pest rabbits and considered an important control technique to manage wild rabbit populations.

“It’s important that people who own pet rabbits maintain vaccination for calicivirus to ensure that if their domestic rabbit comes in contact with the virus, which is mainly spread by contact between other rabbits and insects, they are immune.

“Owners of pet rabbits should consult with their vet and maintain a vaccination program to protect their rabbits,” Mr Chamberlain said.

Calicivirus is present in the environment and may occur naturally at any time when conditions are suitable. Accordingly, owners of pet rabbits should ensure they have appropriate biosecurity measures in place at all times.

There are a number of strains of calicivirus in New South Wales and one of these, the RHDV K2 strain, has recently been identified in pet and wild rabbit populations in some areas of the region. The current vaccine is not fully protective against this strain and so it is important that pet rabbit owners have measures in place to restrict contact with wild rabbits.

Landholders are also encouraged to undertake control work such as destroying burrows and removal of harbour as this will provide longer term management of rabbit populations.

Media contact: Dean Chamberlain, Team Leader Operations – Invasive Pests, North Coast Local Land Services, Ph 0427 458 590

Image caption:           Rabbits are estimated to cause over $200 million dollars in damage to Australian agriculture every year, and they are recognised as a potential threat to at least 304 native threatened species.