Rabbit virus spend approved

The Otago Regional Council yesterday approved spending $50,000 to support the release of a Korean virus strain in a bid to improve rabbit control in the region.

At a regulatory committee meeting, councillors approved the spending to support the potential release of the virus strain that could bring up to a 40% improvement of virus-related rabbit mortality on top of the current strain.

The K5 virus is a variant of the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHDV1) strain already in New Zealand.

Pending statutory approval by the Environmental Protection Authority, the virus may be released at strategic locations throughout Otago this autumn.

Committee chairman Cr Bryan Scott said the release programme, should it go ahead, would be an investment in the Otago community's rabbit control efforts.

But he warned the K5 strain was ''not a silver bullet'' that would solve the region's rabbit problem.

''Landowners still need to actively manage rabbits on their property but this could be a much-needed boost to control efforts,'' he said.

The priority areas for release would be the Upper Clutha from Roxburgh through to Queenstown and Wanaka, including the Tarras area, the Strath Taieri area, Maniototo, and parts of coastal Otago including Balclutha, the Otago Peninsula and Shag Point/Moeraki areas, he said.

He emphasised that for the virus to have maximum impact its release needed to be controlled in respect of location, timing, management and monitoring.

The council aimed to use carrot bait treated with the virus and ''support from landowners'' would be needed to enable the bait to be distributed simultaneously.

Council chief executive Peter Bodeker hoped permission would be given, but warned it was not certain regulatory authorities would approve the release, and the planned timetable for release was also not certain, at this stage.

Council chairman Stephen Woodhead emphasised the importance of patience and said it was crucial the K5 strain was released in a well-co-ordinated, controlled way.

The $50,000 approved will cover the cost of the virus, two pre-feed carrot applications and one treated carrot application, with landowners providing the labour to distribute the baits.

The council is a member of the New Zealand Rabbit Co-ordination Group, whose members include representatives from regional councils, district councils, the Department of Conservation, Land Information New Zealand, the Ministry for Primary Industries, Landcare Research and Federated Farmers.


I have pet rabbits, but to date there is no vaccine available to protect my pets (or the thousands of other pet rabbits in NZ) against this virus. Does it not matter to the Councils, Government, etc, that all those pets will be at risk of contracting this deadly disease? Why not take that $50,000.00 and run a competition for hunters to shoot wild rabbits, offering prize money for the largest haul, rather than risking ALL rabbits (including domestic pets) lives?