Run, rabbits, run…K5 calicivirus release

SUBSCRIBE to our fortnightly e-newsletter to receive more stories like this.Native species, like this mountain pygmy possum living in the Snowy Mountains Kosciuszko National Park, are critically endangered by the damage rabbits cause in destroying their habitat and food sources.

The European rabbit, introduced with white settlement, is now the most destructive agricultural pest animal in Australia. Each year, rabbits are responsible for $200-plus million in lost agricultural production across Australia. Not content to merely munch on crops, they also do damage to the environment and biodiversity, impacting on 304 threatened native plant and animal species and contributing to soil erosion.

Red-letter day for rabbit management

February 2017 marked a milestone in pest-rabbit management for Australia to rival that of the introduction of the myxomatosis virus in the 1960s.

A nationwide information mail-out helped drive the release of RHDV1 K5, the potent Korean strain of a naturally-occurring rabbit virus that was first released in Australia in 1996.

The national release of RHDV1 K5 began over the first week of March 2017. It forms part of Australia’s 20-year plan to “reduce negative impacts on agriculture, the environment and communities through managing rabbit populations”, stated NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) in a February media statement.

This PestSmart video tells you how to use the free RabbitScan app to improve your rabbit control outcomes on your property.

Communities collaborate on K5 release program

According to DPI invasive species manager Quentin Hart, information kits were sent out to 265 community release sites across New South Wales in preparation for the state-wide rollout of RHDV1 K5.

The kits included detailed instructions on how to manage and monitor rabbit control programs, including the RHDV1 K5 program and conventional management strategies.

“The community is leading and managing the strategic release of the virus across NSW, with support from NSW DPI and Local Land Services,” Hart said. “Three intensive management sites near Orange, Gundagai and Hay, linked with the community-led sites, will be managed and monitored by NSW DPI and Local Land Services.”

The Australia-wide release of the RHDV1 K5 calicivirus is being coordinated and managed by Invasive Animals CRC, with significant “financial and in-kind” resources contributed by the Australian and NSW governments, CSIRO, Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) and the Foundation for Rabbit Free Australia.

More information is available online. 

What about Flopsy, my kids’ pet?

NSW DPI advises that owners across Australia vaccinate their domestic rabbits and ensure that the risk of inadvertent infection with the RHDV1 K5 virus or myxomatosis by confining rabbits to indoor spaces or insect-proof enclosures.

Rabbit owners might want to seek advice in advance on protecting their pets from infection from a veterinarian. Relevant information can also be found online at the Australian Veterinary Association website

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