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New strain of rabbit virus released

A new strain of the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus is being released across the South East this week to reduce the impact of feral rabbits on agriculture and the environment.

Landholders, Local Land Services and the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) are working together to release the RHDV1 K5 virus across more than two hundred control sites in NSW.

This work is part of a national project to reduce feral rabbit numbers—a damaging pest species estimated to reduce Australia’s agricultural productivity by over $200 million each year. Feral rabbits also have a direct impact on 304 threatened species nationally.

This is the first time in 20 years that a new rabbit biocontrol agent is being released into Australia. However, RHDV1 K5 is not a new virus. It is a strain of the existing virus already widespread in Australia, commonly known as calicivirus.

Unlike previous biocontrol releases, the K5 strain will not result in a 90 per cent reduction of pest rabbit populations. Rather, it is expected to ‘boost’ current management and help slow down the increase in rabbit numbers.

Farmers should continue to manage feral rabbits on their land, said Chris Harris, Senior Biosecurity Officer.

“We know that rabbit biocontrol is not a silver bullet solution and is most beneficial if applied as part of an integrated and complementary pest management approach,” Chris said.

“We recommend landholders carry out follow-up control measures after the release of the virus. The release of the K5 virus offers a chance for a conversation with neighbours for rabbit control across the landscape.”

Fourth generation Sutton grazier Ron Hardy is one of approximately 130 landholders in the South East working closely with Local Land Services and NSW DPI on the release.

"I’m beside the Yass River and the damage is really noticeable, there are some patches of ground that are wiped out, just reduced to dirt (because of rabbits)," said Ron.

"They’re (rabbits) all through Sutton Village itself too, without control they’ll just keep breeding and take over".

Pet owners should contact a veterinarian for advice on how to protect their rabbits, with online information available from the Australian Veterinary Association www.ava.com.au/rabbit-calicivirus

The national release of RHDV1 K5 has been delivered through the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, with major financial and in kind resources provided by the Australian and NSW governments, CSIRO, Meat and Livestock Australia, Australian Wool Innovation and Foundation for Rabbit Free Australia.

The release of RHDV1 K5 comes after more than five years of testing through the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre RHD Boost project.

Landholders and other community members can report sightings of rabbits or evidence of disease through the Rabbit Scan online portal www.rabbitscan.org.au

To keep up to date with progress of the RHDV1 K5 release visit www.healthierlandscapes.org.au

ENDS

Media contact: David Michael 0418 513 880, Marketing and Communications Coordinator South East Local Land Services