Rabbit virus release delights

The council plans to release the virus in Otago in late March or April and is currently...
The council plans to release the virus in Otago in late March or April and is currently monitoring rabbit numbers so it can judge the virus' effectiveness. Photo: Otago Regional Council

The news that the Otago Regional Council has gained permission to import and release the RHDV1 K5 (K5) rabbit virus later this month has pleased Central Otago farmers.

The virus could potentially reduce the region’s rabbit population by more than 40%.

Federated Farmers Otago president Phill Hunt said feedback he had received from farmers indicated they were delighted with the decision.

‘‘The whole of Otago has probably higher than normal rabbit numbers as we have had a drier season and there has been reduced mortality,’’ he said.

He encouraged pet rabbit owners to get their animals vaccinated, just in case.

Teviot farmer Rod Pemberton said he was also pleased at the news.

‘‘Rabbits are now used to the old calicivirus, which knocked them over [when it was first introduced in 1997].

‘‘That is not happening now and we needed a new strain to come through.’’

He said farmers had introduced it in Central Otago and at that time, they were really desperate and under pressure from high rabbit numbers.

‘‘It was brought in by farmers but not released in the correct manner.

‘‘I heard food processors were popular at that stage.’’

Moa Creek farmer Alistair Eckhoff said the K5 virus was a desperately needed tool.

He said he saw 15 rabbits on his front lawn the other night.

‘‘It is quite diabolical,’’ he said.

Part of the problem was the section behind him was unoccupied and therefore there was no control.

‘‘There is nothing done and they just get away.

‘‘When you think we are on top of them, the next thing we see little fellas, as they breed like rabbits.’’

He said he hoped the new virus would ‘‘knock them over’’.

‘‘There is no easy fix and shooting them costs money.’’

‘‘I think some landowners are employing someone to keep them down, but they are not making much progress.

‘‘It will certainly be a wonderful tool when it goes in.’’

Maniototo Pest Management manager Ossie Brown said the release of the virus would be a ‘‘great asset as long as it was done correctly’’.

‘‘We also need to keep up the secondary shooting — night shooting and helicopter shooting.’’

ORC director environmental monitoring and operations Scott MacLean said the virus needed to be released before the weather turns colder.

‘‘Now is the optimal time to introduce the virus,’’ he said.

‘‘While it spreads naturally between rabbits, it relies on flies to spread it further and fly numbers decrease as the weather cools.’’

He said ORC staff were putting out carrots at strategic locations around Otago, to get the rabbits used to eating them before the bait with the virus in it was put out at more than 100 locations later in the month.

‘‘Once released, it should start to take effect within a couple of days, and we could see a reduction in rabbit numbers within the next month or two,’’ Mr MacLean said.


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