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Canterbury rabbit calicivirus release under way

Environment Canterbury announced that it had started the release programme for the new rabbit haemorrhagic virus disease strain, RHDV1 K5. The regional council received the approvals required for the importation and release in February 2018. Most other regional councils are also participating in the programme.

Graham Sullivan, Environment Canterbury Regional Leader Biosecurity, said the release would reduce the significant environmental and agricultural impacts of wild rabbits, particularly in the southern part of the region. Of the 350 release sites, 100 are in Canterbury.

“The controlled release, using a high-quality commercially prepared product, is being undertaken in Canterbury now because research suggests this is the optimal time to increase the effectiveness of the virus,” Mr Sullivan said.

“While not the silver bullet for rabbit control, we anticipate that the new strain will greatly assist the control of wild rabbit populations by supplementing more traditional control methods. The impact of the RHDV1 K5 release will be monitored at a range of representative sites.”

RHDV1 K5 is not a new virus. It is a Korean strain of the existing RHDV1 virus already 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 (RCA-A1), which occurs naturally in wild rabbit populations in New Zealand.

A vaccine (Cylap) is available in New Zealand which has been helping to protect rabbits from the current RHDV1 for many years. Studies undertaken by the Australian government indicate that this vaccine will help protect pet rabbits against the RHDV1 K5 strain.

“Pet rabbit owners are advised to talk to their local veterinarian to ensure their rabbits have the best protection available,” Mr Sullivan said. “Zoetis, the manufacturer of the vaccine, has confirmed that additional vaccine supplies have been made available in New Zealand for the release.”

Source: Environment Canterbury

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