Wild rabbits are pests that have a significant impact on the natural environment and agricultural industry. They can cause erosion, and destroy native vegetation and food sources. In large numbers they also impact crop production and young forestry plantings.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council Biosecurity Manager Greg Corbett, said the release is part of their ongoing work to assist landowners with controlling wild rabbit populations, and believes the virus could greatly reduce numbers in the region’s hotspots.
“Research suggests that April is the optimal time for the release to improve effectiveness of the virus. The release has also been timed to coincide with other regional council’s releases in a joint effort to combat wild rabbits” Mr Corbett said.
The Regional Council has been working with land owners to find the most effective locations to release the virus and have identified four sites in Ōpōtiki, Manawahe, Rotoehu and Southern Kāingaroa. Although the number of sites in the Bay of Plenty pales in comparison to other regions such as Otago who have 110 sites, Mr Corbett explains that the release is important to keep wild rabbit populations down.
“Wild rabbits have the potential to do some real damage to not only farms and crops, but our native biodiversity too. The release of the virus is another method we’re employing to keep rabbit numbers down to help farmers, the local economy and our native vegetation”.
RHDV1 K5 is a new strain of an existing virus that is already widespread in New Zealand. This new strand has been selected for its ability to overcome resistance issues present in our wild populations.
The virus is not harmful to humans or other animal species. A vaccine (Cylap) has been available to pet rabbit owners for many years to protect them against RHDV1 and is also effective against the new K5 strain. Owners are advised to talk to their local veterinarians to ensure their rabbits are vaccinated.
For answers to frequently asked questions, go to the Ministry for Primary Industries page here.