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.’’