Rabbit-killing virus release planned for south

An initial release of the RHDV1 (K5) rabbit virus on three sites in Southland will be made from next week, if the weather permits.

Environment Southland senior biosecurity officer Dave Burgess said rabbits were less of an issue in Southland than in other areas of New Zealand, which was why a smaller scale release was planned, but further releases  could  be made  later.

K5 is a virus that could reduce the rabbit population significantly. It is a variant of a virus  already present in New Zealand, and only affects the European rabbit. 

Using the virus was approved in late February. Mr Burgess said the virus needed to be released before the weather turned colder, so now was the optimal time.

"While it spreads naturally between rabbits, it does rely on flies to spread it further and fly numbers decrease as the weather cools."

Landowners were asked not to move any rabbit carcasses so the virus could spread naturally. Moving carcasses could dilute the strength of the virus and result in rabbits becoming immune to it.

Mr Burgess said the virus release  was another tool to assist with control, but it would not eliminate the need for landowners to have a control plan in place.

Rabbit control remained a landowner responsibility and Environment Southland’s biosecurity team provided advice and support to landowners to ensure rabbit control was carried out effectively.

Rabbit owners were reminded to ensure their pets’ vaccinations were up to date.

The virus has been released at 100 sites across Otago.

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