Wild rabbit figures dropping

NSW DPI scientist and research director for the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, John Tracey and landholder Kevin Edwards are pleased with results from the new strain of rabbit biocontrol.

NSW DPI scientist and research director for the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, John Tracey and landholder Kevin Edwards are pleased with results from the new strain of rabbit biocontrol.

According to NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), researchers have seen an impressive 42 per cent average reduction in wild rabbit numbers at sites where the new Korean strain of the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus, RHDV1 K5, was released.

NSW DPI scientist and research director for the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, John Tracey, said RHDV1 K5 has been confirmed to control rabbits across Australia following national release of the virus in the first week of March 2017.

“Laboratory tests showed 66 per cent of all samples collected from dead rabbits had the K5 strain, including samples from NSW, Victoria, ACT, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia,” Dr Tracey said.

“An additional 37 per cent of samples were confirmed to have other RHDV strains.

“Samples and reports, recorded in RabbitScan, www.rabbitscan.org.au and via the free smartphone app are helping us monitor and track the virus.

Dr Tracey said following the confirmed success of RHDV1 K5, the virus is expected to spread from more than 585 release sites across Australia.

“With early confirmation that RHDV1 K5 has already spread from at least one release site, we expect the virus to spread further, especially in the cooler, wetter areas of the country,” he said.

“The real benefits will be realised in the long-term as the virus continues to spread.

“We’re keeping an eye on how it travels with the help from the community, who are continuing to lead rabbit management on the ground.”

NSW DPI has encouraged land managers to report and record rabbit numbers, activity, warrens, damage and control activities in their local area through RabbitScan.

When users report dead animals in the RabbitScan app or online, biosecurity officers are alerted and arrange a disease sampling kit to be mailed out to the report author.

Kits include instructions on how to take and send samples to be tested for disease.

The free app can be downloaded through the iTunes and Google Play stores by searching for ‘Rabbit Scan’.

There’s more good news from the rollout of RHDV K5, with more pet and domestic rabbits than ever vaccinated and protected against rabbit viruses, and for endangered native species and agriculture, which benefit from reductions in wild rabbit populations.