Regional Council launches assault on feral rabbits

  • Published Date 10 Apr 2018

Greater Wellington Regional Council has launched a programme to reduce the number of feral rabbits to minimise their significant impact on the region's environment and agriculture.

From mid-April Greater Wellington's biosecurity team will begin releasing the new rabbit haemorrhagic virus disease strain, RHDV1 K5, into approximately 30 sites across Wellington, Porirua, Wairarapa and the Kāpiti Coast. Most of the release sites will be on private land and in areas with minimal public access.

The virus is a Korean strain of the already-established RHDV1 virus, which is now 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 (RCV-A1), which occurs naturally in feral rabbit populations in New Zealand.

"Our aim is to keep the wild rabbit population supressed at low levels, and once RHDV1 K5 is released it will naturally spread throughout the region's rabbit population.

"Unfortunately, it's impossible to completely eliminate them, and conventional control methods should still be a part of the management of feral rabbit populations,” says Glen Falconer, Team Leader (Pest Animals).

"So the best approach is to use the new strain to boost the current strain RHDV1 and combine viral control with traditional forms such as shooting, fumigating and toxic baiting.

"We should start seeing results from the release of RHDV1 K5 within a few weeks of its release. It will be distributed at different points throughout the region and should spread through the feral rabbit population. The progress of the release will be monitored. "

Environment Canterbury Regional Council has received all approvals required for the importation and release, and Greater Wellington Regional Council joins other regional councils in a national release programme.

Owners of pet rabbits should not be concerned but they are strongly advised to talk to their vets about vaccinating their pets with Cylap, which has been helping to protect rabbits from the current RHDV1 for many years. Most pet rabbits will have already been vaccinated but owners should make sure their pet's annual booster vaccines are up-to-date.

Studies undertaken by the Australian government indicate that this vaccine will help protect pet rabbits against the RHDV1 K5 strain. Zoetis, the manufacturer of the vaccine, has confirmed that additional vaccine supplies have been made available in New Zealand for the release.

People, pets, wildlife and livestock are not at risk, No variant of RHDV1 has ever been found to cause infection in humans or any other animal except the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Even predatory animals that eat rabbits that have died from RHDV1 do not develop an infection.

If people want to know more about the RHDV1 K5 release there is a wealth of information available to you on the Manaaki Whenua Land Care Research website. This includes: frequently asked questions and Information about the Ministry of Primary Industries Approval Process.

Updated April 28, 2022 at 1:17 PM

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