The Waikato Regional Council will release a rabbit-killing virus to reduce the significant environmental and agricultural impacts of the pest in some parts of the region.
By the end of April it’s expected the new rabbit haemorrhagic virus disease strain will be released at sites in Hamilton, Cambridge, Pauanui, Whangamata, Thames, Matarangi, Taupō, Kuratau and Kinloch.
“The virus is specific to rabbits,” said Biosecurity pest animals team leader Brett Bailey.
“Humans and other animals won’t be affected if they accidentally come into contact with carrots treated with the virus or the carcasses of rabbits killed by it.”
The virus is not new. It is a Korean strain of the existing RHDV1 virus already widespread in New Zealand and only affects the European rabbit.
The strain, RHDV1 K5, was selected for release because it can better overcome the protective effects of the benign calicivirus (RCA-A1), which occurs naturally in wild rabbit populations in New Zealand.
A vaccine (Cylap) is available which 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 and farmed rabbits against the RHDV1 K5 strain.
Pet rabbit owners are advised to talk to their veterinarian to ensure their rabbits have the best protection available. Zoetis, the manufacturer of the vaccine, has confirmed that additional vaccine supplies have been made available in New Zealand for the release.
The virus release follows a decision by the Ministry for Primary Industries last week to grant approvals to Environment Canterbury, on behalf of a national consortium of agencies, for the importation and release of RHDV1 K5.
“This is not a silver bullet, but this new strain of virus is expected to support other control methods and help manage rabbits in areas where there are large populations of this pest,” Bailey said.
“Rabbits contribute to erosion and undermine buildings with their burrowing, and they affect dune restoration and native restoration programmes too.
“Now’s the optimum time to act, and we aim to have the release completed by the end of April. We’ve been working closely with local councils, as well as the Department of Conservation, to identify the best areas in our region to carry out the initial release.”
Bailey said the council was aware of the conditions in the approval and will work to ensure they are met and effectively enforced. He said the release of the virus would be carried out by experienced contractors.
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