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Published: 2005-07-04 00:00:00

Environment Waikato is planning to release the rabbit virus RHD in the Taupo and Coromandel areas this winter.

The targeted release of the virus will be done by experienced Environment Waikato pest control contractors in Omori and Kuratau near Taupo and Matarangi and Pauanui on the1 Coromandel.

Rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) – formerly known as RCD – is a highly contagious disease which only affects European rabbits. In 1997 the virus was illegally released by Otago farmers Rabbit control is the responsibility of land owners and occupiers, but the Council recognised that traditional shooting, poisoning and trapping methods were not often practicable or could not be safely used near urban areas.

“Every year we receive numerous rabbit complaints from these areas in particular. The problems stem from the light, sandy soils in these areas, which are ideal for burrowing rabbits, coupled with a high number of absentee owners.” Environment Waikato Biosecurity Operations Manager Peter Russell said.

He said the Council was targeting small, isolated rabbit populations and using the virus as a biocide. It did not intend to use RHD as a widespread biological control to artificially initiate epidemics as this had induced immunity in young rabbits.

Environment Waikato is part of a consortium of 12 pest management agencies working together to import, sell and distribute the virus nationwide, targeting specific areas. A protocol had been developed by the group, he said.

Sale and use of the virus was restricted to authorised users. Rabbit numbers would be assessed before and after the operation to determine the success of the operation and all landowners in the proposed operation areas would be notified before work started.

The virus would be distributed in chopped carrot bait, with two pre-feeds of carrot bait applied on the ground to get rabbits use to eating the bait. The trial operations will occur between July 18 and August 12, weather permitting.

Carrot bait, with the virus added, would be applied in suitable areas, such as along the edges of sand dunes and farms, and in and around esplanade reserves and other open grassed areas. All uneaten bait would be collected within 24 hours of being laid and obvious dead rabbits removed.

Domestic rabbit owners and breeders who had not already taken precautions to vaccinate their rabbits were encouraged to so, although the proposed re-release would have very low risks to domestic rabbits compared with natural epidemics, he said.

RHD was not a ‘silver bullet’ for rabbit control, and studies had shown that at best it would achieve a 60 percent reduction in rabbit populations. Normally a 40-60 percent reduction is obtained.