The NSW Department of Primary Industries has reminded rabbit owners to protect their pets ahead of a new national release of a rabbit biocontrol virus in March.
A new strain of the calicivirus is being released across the country and owners of pet rabbits are being urged to make sure their vaccinations against the virus are up to date.
DPI invasive species manager, Quentin Hart, said RHDV1 K5 is the Korean strain of a naturally-occurring rabbit virus first released here in 1996 to manage the impact of pest rabbits on the Australian environment and agriculture.
“We are targeting wild rabbits which cost more than $200 million in lost agricultural production annually and wreak havoc on the environment, with a direct impact on 304 threatened native plant and animal species,” Mr Hart said.
“To help prevent domestic rabbits from becoming infected with RHDV1 K5 pet owners should consult their veterinarian and follow vaccination recommendations.”
In addition to vaccination, DPI advises rabbit owners to:
· Prevent direct and indirect contact between domestic and wild rabbits – an example of indirect contact would be cutting grass that has wild rabbits on it or placing hutches in areas that wild rabbits have access to
· Protect rabbits from insects to reduce risks of RHDV and myxomatosis, which includes insect-proof hutches and keeping rabbits indoors
· Wash their hands with warm soapy water between handling rabbits
These recommendations on the DPI website are in accordance with advice from the Australian Veterinary Association www.ava.com.au/rabbit-calicivirus
One local family is doing all of the above and more in preparation for the release of the virus.
Charlie and Riley Pout have started a rabbit stud in Forbes and are looking forward to their first kits.
They take every precaution – vaccinating their rabbits, screening their enclosure, using mozzie coils to deter mosquitoes and flies who bear the virus and avoiding contact with affected rabbits – to protect their young stud, Hippity Hop, from the outbreaks of previous strains of the virus in the area.
The family has joined a social media group – Against K5 Virus and for a Vaccine to Save Rabbits from RHDV2 – which has formed on Facebook to advocate for the release of the virus to be delayed until an updated vaccine is available to Australian owners.
Mr Hart said landholders, working with DPI and Local Land Services, plan to release RHDV1 K5 in more than 200 community-led sites in NSW, from late February until early March, as part of the national release.
“Three intensive management sites near Orange, Gundagai and Hay, linked with the community-led sites, will be managed and monitored by NSW DPI and Local Land Services,” Mr Hart said.
The European rabbit is Australia’s most destructive agricultural pest animal, costing more than $200 million in lost agricultural production annually and wreaking havoc on the environment and biodiversity, affecting 304 threatened native plant and animal species.
More information is available online, www.healthierlandscapes.org.au