A rabbit nibbles on native revegetation despite the protective wiring.  Image courtesy Wayne Hillier.

A rabbit nibbles on native revegetation despite the protective wiring.
Image courtesy Wayne Hillier.

A SERIES of information sessions are being run in January to provide detailed information to local landholders about the upcoming release of a new overseas strain of rabbit calicivirus.
The new Korean strain of the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus, known as RHDV1 K5, is aiming to boost the effectiveness of the current RHDV1 strain released in 1996.
Four information sessions are being hosted by the South Gippsland Community Weeds Taskforce and local Landcare groups and networks in Kilcunda, Koonwarra, Woodside and Warragul.
The workshops will be presented by rabbit expert and research scientist from the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, Dr Tarnya Cox and Department Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources Biosecurity Manager for Established Invasive Animals, John Matthews.
Leading Biosecurity Officer, Bob Wilson said for it to reach its full potential, land managers need to be alert, organised and informed about the release of the virus.
“The information sessions will also explain how landholders can become involved in the release and how to improve any advantage that RHDV K5 may provide in impacting rabbit populations,” said Mr Wilson.
“The K5 strain will not kill every last rabbit in the environment but rather boost the impacts of biological control agents that are already in the environment.
“The release will be most effective if it is coordinated and supported with integrated rabbit management techniques, therefore land managers are encouraged to take advantage and follow up with conventional control to remove remnant rabbits and destroy their warrens.
“Do not expect to see population reductions like those seen with the release of calicivirus in 1996/97 as RHDV K5 is not being released into a fully susceptible rabbit population like that in 1996.
“Knockdowns are expected to be improved by anywhere from zero to 40 per cent, depending on location and susceptibility of the rabbit population to RHDV K5.”
Mr Wilson said rabbits are Australia’s most destructive agricultural pest animal, costing $200 million in lost agricultural production every year, with a further $6 million expended on rabbit control measures.
Rabbits also impact the environment, with less than one rabbit per hectare, enough to stop the growth of some native species and negatively affect biodiversity, leading to further loss of native flora and fauna.
“RHD Boost is about fine tuning and enhancing the effects of calicivirus,” Mr Wilson said.
“It is a national project to introduce a new strain of RHDV, to improve the control of rabbits, particularly in areas where calicivirus has had limited impact on rabbit populations.
“The RHD Boost project found that K5 should work better in cool-wet regions where the existing virus has not been so successful.
“K5 kills more rabbits and is a faster death than the current strain of RHDV.
“This leads to improved animal welfare outcomes, as well as helping to lessen the impacts of rabbits on biodiversity and production.”
Community Weeds Taskforce member and South Gippsland Landcare Network Coordinator, Kate McKenzie, said the release of K5 in conjunction with a community-led response, using best practice rabbit management principles, is an opportunity to mitigate rabbit damage and assist manage rabbits to low levels.
“This is a real opportunity for the community to band together and try to make a real dent in the population,” she said.
“Rabbits don’t stop at fences and where K5 reduces rabbit populations, a coordinated community-led response will be required to sustain a long term advantage.
“Additionally, K5 offers a new opportunity to begin a conversation with neighbours with the aim of integrated best practice rabbit control at a landscape scale.”
The release of K5 is pending APVMA approval, with an expected release to follow in 2016.
The workshops are free and include light refreshments.
Workshops will be held on January 21, at the Kilcunda Community Centre at 10am and at the Koonwarra Hall at 1.30pm.
Workshops will be held on January 22, at the Woodside Hall at 9.30am and Warragul Arts Centre at 2pm.
For further information and to RSVP please contact Kathleen Brack on 5613 5966 or kathleenb@wgcma.vic.gov.au.