WILD rabbit numbers are falling in some areas nationally following the release of the new Korean strain of the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus, RHDV1 K5, in March.
An estimated 42 percent average reduction in wild rabbit numbers has been seen at sites where RHDV1 K5 was released, according to NSW Department of Primary Industries researchers.
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. The virus is expected to spread from more than 585 release sites across Australia.
“Laboratory tests showed 66 percent of all samples collected from dead rabbits had the K5 strain, including samples from NSW, Victoria, ACT, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.
“An additional 37 percent of samples were confirmed to have other RHDV strains,” Dr Tracey said.
“Samples and reports, recorded in RabbitScan, www.rabbitscan.org.au and via the free smartphone app are helping us monitor and track the virus.
“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,” he said.
Dr Tracey said the real benefits of the virus release will be realised in the long-term as it continues to spread.
“We’re keeping an eye on how it travels with the help from the community, who are continuing to lead rabbit management on the ground.”
NSW DPI has encouraged land managers to report and record rabbit numbers, activity, warrens, damage and control activities in their local area though RabbitScan.
When users report dead animals in the RabbitScan app or online, biosecurity officers are alerted and arrange a disease sampling kit to be mailed out to the report author.
Kits include instructions on how to take and send samples to be tested for disease. The free app can be downloaded through the iTunes and Google Play stores by searching for ‘Rabbit Scan’.
NSW DPI said with more pet and domestic rabbits than ever are being vaccinated and protected against rabbit viruses, and there have been benefits for endangered native species and agriculture from reductions in wild rabbit populations.