MORE than 150 landowners and Landcarers attended meetings in Koonwarra, Kilcunda, Warragul and Woodside recently to hear about a new strain of virus being released to help control rabbits across Australia.
Rabbit expert and research scientist funded through the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, Dr Tarnya Cox, explained that currently rabbits were not only costing farmers and the economy millions of dollars, but they also threaten extinction of 304 Australian native species.
“Rabbits were first introduced to Australia in 1859,” Dr Cox said.
“They provided settlers with a ready source of meat and sport.
“Since this time the population has exploded. The release of myxomatosis in the 1950s and the release of the initial Calicivirus in 1996 effectively reduced populations for a period of time.
“But now rabbit numbers have returned to pre-Calcivirus levels, causing huge amounts of damage.
“We plan to release a new strain of rabbit Calcivirus which could reduce the rabbit population in some locations by up to 50 per cent.
“Landholders who want to make the most out of the virus strain should couple the release with traditional control methods such as ripping burrows, baiting and fumigation. This will increase the longevity of any results.
“We are asking landowners to get involved either by joining with their neighbours to be a release site or by using the RabbitScan App to help alert us to where the virus has spread.
“We hope the App will be a really useful tool for communities to plan their rabbit control efforts,” Dr Cox said.
A disease reporting function of the App will be available in the next few months.
The release of the new strain of the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus, known as RHDV1 K5, is likely to take place later this year in an attempt to boost the effectiveness of the current RHDV1 strain released in 1996.
RHDV1 has been tested in other species including dogs, cats and native wildlife.
No other animal has ever developed an infection from being exposed to RHDV1.
When exposed to RHDV1 K5, rabbits develop cold like symptoms, become lethargic and die quickly.
For more information about the virus release and app, visit www.pestsmart.gov.au
These workshops were supported by the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program and the Victorian State Government.