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Published: 2005-08-09 00:00:00

The Rabbit Calicivirus will not be released in the Taupo Region by Environment Waikato this winter, as the imported virus has arrived too late to be used effectively.

Environment Waikato had intended to release the virus in Omori and Kuratau to deal with the rabbit problem – but will now delay this trial until winter of 2006.

“Due to regulatory and logistical delays in obtaining the virus from Australia, which were completely beyond Environment Waikato’s control, we are now outside the ‘window of opportunity’ available for the virus’ release,” said Environment Waikato’s spokesman Peter Russell.

“Now we are into August, the rabbits have started breeding, so this renders the virus ineffective. The last thing we want to do is to add to the potential immunity levels in these populations.”

However, Environment Waikato will be looking at other rabbit control methods that can be used this winter.

“While we are disappointed by the postponement, we are looking at undertaking alternative rabbit control in the worst affected areas at the Taupo sites. The Omori and Kuratau areas may be targeted for small-scale control this winter using carrot baiting methods. We are awaiting a revised Operational Plan from our contractors before we contact the various authorities who may be interested in, or affected by, any proposed poisoning operations.”

Environment Waikato had carried out publicity and communication with landowners and the media in the lead-up to the proposed release of the Rabbit Calicivirus in June/July 2005, as it had wanted to fully inform the public of the trial.

“On the positive side, Environment Waikato and its consortium of fellow Regional Councils now have all the approvals in place, and will therefore have a much better idea of the process for bringing the laboratory-strength strain of the virus into the country next year,” Mr Russell said.

“This means we should be in a very good position to have a successful release next winter – particularly as the Regional Councils involved will be able to use the extra time to gain a better understanding of the immunity levels of the rabbits in their specific areas.”

The Rabbit Calicivirus was illegally released in 1997 by Otago farmers, but the nature and strain of the virus was not well known, and coupled with poor storage and indiscriminate distribution, the virus became ineffective in parts of the country.
Hence, the Regional Councils – which are responsible for such biosecurity issues as rabbit management - agreed to work together to import the virus from Australia and manage its sale, distribution and use throughout New Zealand. The sale and use of the virus will be restricted solely to the consortium of Regional Council’s pest management agencies and authorised users.