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Published: 2005-08-09 00:00:00

The Rabbit Calicivirus will not be released on the Coromandel by Environment Waikato this winter, as the imported virus has arrived too late to be used effectively.

Environment Waikato had intended to release the virus in Pauanui and Matarangi to deal with the rabbit problem – but will now delay this trial until winter of 2006.

“Due to regulatory and logistical delays in obtaining the virus from Australia, which were completely beyond Environment Waikato’s control, we are now outside the ‘window of opportunity’ available for the virus’ release,” said Environment Waikato’s spokesman Peter Russell.

“Now we are into August, the rabbits have started breeding, so this renders the virus ineffective. The last thing we want to do is to add to the potential immunity levels in these populations.”

Environment Waikato had carried out publicity and communication with landowners and the media in the lead-up to the proposed release in June/July 2005, as it had wanted to fully inform the public of the trial.

“Some people in the Pauanui and Matarangi areas on the Coromandel may be disappointed by the delay. However, it is important to recognise that poisoning and shooting are not appropriate in such areas, which are close to houses and the beachfront,” Mr Russell said.

Mr Russell said that on the positive side, Environment Waikato and its consortium of fellow Regional Councils now had all the approvals in place, and would therefore have a much better idea of the process for bringing the laboratory-strength strain of the virus into the country next year.

“This means we should be in a very good position to have a successful release next winter – particularly as the Regional Councils involved will be able to use the extra time to gain a better understanding of the immunity levels of the rabbits in their specific areas.”

The Rabbit Calicivirus was illegally released in 1997 by Otago farmers, but the nature and strain of the virus was not well known, and coupled with poor storage and indiscriminate distribution, the virus became ineffective in parts of the country.

Hence, the Regional Councils – which are responsible for such biosecurity issues as rabbit management - agreed to work together to import the virus from Australia and manage its sale, distribution and use throughout New Zealand. The sale and use of the virus will be restricted solely to the consortium of Regional Council’s pest management agencies and authorised users.