Rabbit virus release at Gunnedah property sees dramatic drop in numbers

HIGH IMPACT: North West Local Land Service biosecurity officer Greg Lumber is pleased with the results he has seen on a property north of Gunnedah following release of the rabbit virus.

HIGH IMPACT: North West Local Land Service biosecurity officer Greg Lumber is pleased with the results he has seen on a property north of Gunnedah following release of the rabbit virus.

A 50 per cent reduction in rabbit numbers has been seen on a property near Gunnedah.

The reduction was discovered just days after the Korean strain of the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus, RHDV1 K5, was released on the property in early March.

The biosecurity measure was introduced by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) at more than 200 community-led sites with the assistance of landholders and Local Land Services.

Carrots laced with RHDV1 K5 spell the end for wild rabbits.

Carrots laced with RHDV1 K5 spell the end for wild rabbits.

 “It’s released on carrots. We put the virus out on carrots,” North West Local Land Services biosecurity officer Greg Lumber said.

“You’ve got to feed the rabbits prior to putting out the carrots. You do three of the feeds a couple of days apart of just plain carrot, which is cut up, then the virus is put on the last feed and the rabbits ingest it and that’s how they pick up the virus.”

Mr Lumber said the impact of the virus on the local property was “quite noticeable”.

“What we did prior to and after, we did spotlight counts to determine the number of rabbits so we could get some idea of success or not. Then the RHDV1 K5 virus was released and in that particular case, going on the spotlight numbers, we had probably a 50 per cent reduction,” he said.

Greg Lumber discusses the impact of the rabbit virus.

Mr Lumber said the virus was introduced on a Monday and by Thursday, they were starting to see the effects. Spotlight counts continued for a month after the virus was introduced.

“We sent in some samples from dead rabbits and we haven’t got the official results back from those yet,” he said. 

“One would presumably be from the RHDV1 K5 virus and the other one was a live rabbit to see whether it’s been infected and survived or it hasn’t been infected at all.”

Mr Lumber said the local property was chosen as release site because the area had high-density pockets of rabbits.

“It seems to have worked fairly well and made the problem much more manageable,” he said.

“Hopefully, it will spread from these areas. So if people are getting unexplained death in rabbit population we can investigate it and get some samples and send it away and find out what is actually killing them.”

NSW DPI scientist and research director for the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, John Tracey, said RHDV1 K5 had been confirmed to control rabbits across Australia 

“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.

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.

“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.”

The free app, RabbitScan, can be utilised by landholders to help the DPI track and monitor the impacts. Landholders can also report noticeable drops in the rabbit population by contacting Greg Lumber on 0427 293 892.

Those who keep rabbits as pets are advised to get their animals vaccinated as soon as possible.

Related stories:

·         Rabbits in danger from virus

·         Pet rabbits soon to be at risk

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop