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New strain of rabbit virus released across the Murray region

A new strain of the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus has been released across the Murray region 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 200 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 has been 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.

Murray Local Land Services Manager Biosecurity and Emergency Services, Geoff Corboy, said farmers should continue to manage feral rabbits on their land.

“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,” he 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.”

Nic Bliss, manager of Mathoura Station, Mathoura is one of 18 landholders in the Murray region working closely Local Land Services and NSW DPI on the release.

“Rabbits affect the productivity of our property and reduce ground cover and vegetation if not constantly controlled. A reduction in numbers will benefit the health of the land as well as increasing our productive capacity,” Mr Bliss said.

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

Media contact: Matt Lane, 02 60 51 2252, 0427 459 755, matt.g.lane@lls.nsw.gov.au