MORE landowners are needed to help in the release of a new rabbit calcivirus strain scheduled across Australia in autumn next year.
The RHDV K5 strain of rabbit calicivirus is expected to strengthen Australia’s ability to manage wild rabbits after the Coalition Government recently announced the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority’s approval of its registration.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, said the approval by the APVMA is a significant step toward combatting Australia’s most costly vertebrate pest animal, which causes farmers an estimated $206 million in losses.
About 550 expressions of interest from landowners to receive free RHDV K5 strain vials have been received across Australia, including 58 in Western Australia, five in the Northern Territory, 27 in South Australia, 18 in Queensland, 200 in New South Wales, 220 in Victoria and four in Tasmania.
Some states have ‘subsites’ involving Landcare groups organizing land holders and the weekly rate of expressions of interest more than doubled after the recent Landline segment. However, the formal EOI program closes this month and the Invasive Animal CRC would appreciate additional expressions of interests from landowners in the following areas to maximise the impact of the release.
– Western Australia — south west corner and slightly inland around Mt Madden, Varley, Hyden and Lake Grace.
– South Australia and the Northern Territory — central Australia along the SA/NT border and into central South Australia.
– New South Wales – central NSW around the Orange, Cobar and Griffith areas through to the SA border.
– Queensland — between the Toowoomba and Tambo areas.
NSW Department of Primary Industries research officer Dr Tarnya Cox said autumn next year was an ideal time to undertake rabbit control and the Invasive Animals Co-operative Research Centre was trying to give as many landowners as possible the opportunity to participate in the release.
“We will determine where those release sites for the free vials are in June-July, but anyone who doesn’t get a free vial can still participate, you can just purchase it through authorised personnel.”
Dr Cox said rabbit populations can be patchy and the RHDV K5 calcivirus strain was expected to control 0-40 percent of rabbits in infected populations.
“We are not going to see 1995 again, because we don’t have a naïve rabbit population.
“We’ve got a lot of resistant animals out there and a proportion of those we can’t manage with this strain,” she said.
The new calicivirus strain is being released to improve rabbit control, but landowners will still need to undertake follow-up methods.
“We’re keeping a lid on it.”
Dr Cox said the search for other calicivirus strains will continue around the world with a long-term plan to release one every 8-10 years or when resistance starts to build up.
Of the EOI submissions received by the IACRC, 76 are broad-scale and 388 are release sites, but more broad-scale sites are being sought as the data collected from these localities will paint a more accurate picture.
Broad-scale sites undertake a three-night spotlight count with a vehicle using standard methods. The spotlight route must be a minimum of 1km and cover at least 25 percent of the site where release is to take place (such as the paddock). Samples also need to be taken from 20 shot rabbits prior to release.
Release sites undertake a spotlight count of their rabbit population prior to release, which can be walked or driven. No shot samples are required and there are no minimum site requirements.
All sites are required to collect dead rabbits (where possible) after the release of K5 and redo their rabbit population assessment in the same manner four weeks after the release. There can be a mix of both Release and Broad-scale sites within the one group.
Mr Joyce said effective long-term management of rabbits is a national priority, and critical to improved productivity and increased farmgate profits.
“Traditional methods of rabbit control, such as shooting and poisoning, have a limited impact at a national level. Biological control agents like myxomatosis and calicivirus are modern approaches that are proven to work on a large scale.
“RHDV K5 is a naturally occurring overseas strain of rabbit calicivirus that Australian rabbits don’t have resistance to—and the government, together with industry, research organisations and state and territory governments, has invested in its development and proposed roll out,” he said.
“We can now take the next steps to support the future roll out of the K5 strain, including undertaking the research that will give us a better understanding of the impacts of the current RHDV2 strain and the new K5 strain once it is released.
The K5 strain has been carefully assessed by government and industry and the APVMA has formally approved the strain for registration in Australia as a restricted chemical product. This follows a comprehensive assessment process, including public consultation.
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