Farm Management

Virus strain to control pest rabbits

WA landholders are being asked to support the latest efforts to control pest rabbits, with the imminent national release of a new strain of the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus.

The virus, known as RHDV1 K5, will be released across Australia in the first week of March 2017 as part of a 20-year plan to better manage the nation’s most destructive agricultural pest animal.

In Western Australia, the Department of Agriculture and Food is supporting preparations at more than 100 community-led release sites, providing training and advice on follow-up control activities.

The department is also reaching out to owners of domestic rabbits to ensure they are aware of the virus and know how to protect their pet rabbits from infection.

Department researcher officer Susan Campbell said RHDV1 K5 would be a vital tool in helping to reduce the population of pest rabbits, which cost more than $200 million in lost agricultural production each year and wreak havoc on the environment and biodiversity.

“The virus is contagious and can be spread by direct contact or by mosquito vector, we understand that owners of domestic rabbits want advice on how to keep their rabbits safe,” Dr Campbell said.

“We urge owners to contact their local veterinarian for advice on vaccination which also covers the existing strain of the virus, and to take additional precautions such as keeping rabbits in insect-proof enclosures or inside.”

The Australian Veterinary Association website and DAFWA’s RHDV1 K5 web pages provide further advice on vaccinations and other protective measures.

RHDV1 K5 is a naturally occurring variant of the original virus release in Australia some 20 years ago. This new strain, from Korea, is expected to work better in the cool-wet regions of Australia where the current variant has not been so successful.

“However, RHDV1 K5 is not expected to result in a 90 per cent reduction of pest rabbit populations, as seen with other biocontrol releases,” Dr Campbell said.

“Rather it is expected to ‘boost’ current management and help slow down the increase in rabbit numbers.

“To maximise its effect, it is critical that landholders undertake an integrated and complementary pest management approach, with follow up control measures.”

Dr Campbell said a video series on best practice rabbit control, recently released by the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), could help landholders implement successful integrated control programs.

The videos are available online from the PestSmart website, and have also been delivered to RHDV1 K5 release sites as part of their information and sampling kits.

“I would encourage everyone to take advantage of the instructional ‘how-to’ videos, demonstrating control measures such as poison baiting, baiting with biocontrol agents, rabbit warren fumigation, rabbit warren ripping and harbour destruction,” she said.

“Also included are video instructions for the RabbitScan app, which can be used to report rabbit sightings or evidence of disease.”

The app is available from iTunes or GooglePlay, and is also linked from the FeralScan website.

Dr Campbell reminded land managers of the selected release sites that online authorisation training, developed by the department, must be completed to authorise the use of RHDV. Land managers should have already received training details.

The national release of RHDV1 K5 is being delivered through the Invasive Animals CRC, with major financial and in kind resources provided by the Australian and state governments, CSIRO, Meat and Livestock Australia, Australian Wool Innovation and Foundation for Rabbit Free Australia.

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