Waikato Regional Council will be releasing a virus to reduce the significant environmental and agricultural impacts of wild rabbits in some parts of the region.
It 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 the new rabbit haemorrhagic virus disease strain, RHDV1 K5.
This is not a new virus. It is a Korean strain of the existing RHDV1 virus already widespread in New Zealand and only affects the European rabbit. 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.
Biosecurity pest animals team leader Brett Bailey said: “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.
“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.”
In the Waikato, the virus will be released at sites in Pauanui, Whangamata, Thames, Matarangi, Hamilton, Cambridge, Taupō, Kuratau and Kinloch.
Mr Bailey said the council is 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.
“The virus is specific to rabbits. 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 the virus,” he said.
A vaccine (Cylap) is available in New Zealand 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 local 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.