Rab­bit virus to be de­layed


Farmers will have to wait an­other year for the re­lease of a virus to slow rab­bit num­bers in the re­gion.

The new vari­ant of rab­bit haem­or­rhagic dis­ease, known as RHDV1 K5, has al­ready been ap­proved in Aus­tralia and re­lease there is cur­rently un­der­way. The group co-or­di­nat­ing the re­lease, the New Zealand Rab­bit Co­or­di­na­tion Group (RCG), of which Otago Re­gional Coun­cil and En­vi­ron­ment Can­ter­bury are mem­bers, hope to re­lease it in March 2018.

En­vi­ron­ment Can­ter­bury re­gional biose­cu­rity leader Gra­ham Sul­li­van said the tar­geted re­lease date was later than orig­i­nally an­tic­i­pated be­cause fur­ther work was needed to ad­dress the reg­u­la­tions per­mit­ting le­gal im­por­ta­tion of the new vari­ant.

‘‘The re­vised time­frame will al­low the RCG to learn valu­able lessons from the Aus­tralian re­lease...A con­trolled re­lease will also en­sure that a high-qual­ity com­mer­cially pre­pared prod­uct can be made avail­able in or­der to im­prove ef­fec­tive­ness.’’

An il­le­gal or un­man­aged re­lease would sig­nif­i­cantly com­pro­mise the ben­e­fits, he said.

A sub­stan­tial risk of any un­man­aged re­lease was the like­li­hood of bring­ing the rogue RHDV2 virus into New Zealand. RHDV2 was present in Aus­tralia and its po­ten­tial im­pact on non­tar­get species was un­known, so it pre­sented a sig­nif­i­cant biose­cu­rity risk.

Pet rab­bit own­ers were un­der­stand­ably con­cerned about the pos­si­ble im­pact of a new RHD vari­ant. A vac­cine was avail­able to pro­tect pet rab­bits from the cur­rent RHDV strain.

Otago re­gional coun­cil­lor Michael Laws said an­other year’s de­lay for the re­lease of the Korean RHDV1 virus to counter the rab­bit plague in Cen­tral Otago and the wider re­gion ‘‘re­quires the most de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion be­cause the ef­fects of the de­lay will add to the cur­rent harm’’.

‘‘As a re­gional coun­cil­lor – whose re­gion is be­set by a new rab­bit plague – I’ve been pro­vided no rea­son for the de­lay.’’

Laws said rab­bits were a pest that did real aes­thetic and eco­nomic harm to the Otago land­scape.

‘‘They may look cute but they de­stroy graz­ing, habi­tat, farmer in­comes and jobs. And re­cent sea­sons have seen their num­bers ex­plode – in some ar­eas, to plague pro­por­tions. This virus is crit­i­cal as a con­trol agent.’’

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