Grazing Land Management

New rabbit calcivirus strain registered, release sites needed in SA, WA, NT and NSW

Terry Sim, May 4, 2016


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.

Release scheduled for autumn 2017

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.

More broad-scale release sites sought

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.

Rabbit management is a national priority

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.

Click here to get involved as a monitoring release site

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  1. Julia Avery, May 11, 2016

    Dozens of rabbit holes 1 metres wide near sheds on our 300ha farm. Mxyomatosis recently came through, but still young rabbits around. Will the next calicvirus strain finish them? Editor’s note: According to According to NSW DPI research officer Dr Tarnya Cox, RHDV K5 does not affect young rabbits (under approx 6 weeks of age). The only way the landholder can ensure removal of these young rabbits is to apply conventional control, such as poison baiting, fumigation followed by warren ripping/harbour destruction.
    The new strain of RHDV (K5) is not expected to have 100pc knock down. However, it should reduce populations between 0-40% and will be most effective when used in conjunction with other rabbit management tools. Your local biosecurity officer will be able to best advise how to manage your local rabbit situation. Below is a link to the RHDV K5 information pack which may answer some of your questions:
    http://www.pestsmart.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/RabbitRHDVK5_infopack_FINAL.pdf
    In terms of the new virus, we are offering 60 free vial to land holders. Submissions of interest can be made online through the pest smart webpage and we will be selecting sites in the coming weeks with expressions of interest closing May 31. I have pasted a link below which will provide instruction on how to register your site. Please ensure you fill out all of the boxes and provide us with as much detail about your site as possible e.g approximate size, if you are a group – how many land holders, past and current rabbit management and any other information with might assist us in our selection process.Your local government, land care or other community organizations may already have a RHDV K5 release group set up in your area, and you may want to inquire if you can join one of these groups first.
    http://www.pestsmart.org.au/get-involved-as-a-monitoring-site/

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