Rabbit populations in the Wheatbelt and across the south-west of WA could be reduced by around 40% in the coming weeks, as the calicivirus (Korean variant – RHDV1 K5) is released throughout the region to overcome growing rabbit numbers.
Wheatbelt NRM has been coordinating the controlled release with 16 landholders in the Wheatbelt who have chosen to participate in the carefully planned release. Sites in the Wheatbelt have been especially selected using a science, based on coordinated predator control (to minimise prey switching) and rabbit activity tracked by landholders, to ensure that we have the best opportunity of creating an epidemic and high elimination rate. The K5 virus, which only affects the European rabbit, may provide us with the opportunity to reduce rabbit numbers to make them more manageable.
Rabbits are an environmentally damaging pest, causing over $200 million in losses to agriculture through soil degradation and loss of vegetation cover and are a major threat to biodiversity, impacting on the survival of many native species. High numbers of rabbits support a higher level of feral cat and fox numbers, thereby increasing the impact that these species have on native species. Two main diseases previously released in Australia to control the population of these pests, calicivirus (Czech strain) and myxomatosis, have become less effective, although it is estimated that their presence has limited rabbit numbers to 15% of their potential population.
Rabbits infected with K5 develop symptoms between 24 and 72 hours after infection and usually die within six to 36 hours after the initial symptoms appeared.
Domestic rabbits can be immunised against with the vaccine currently used to protect rabbits against infection from other strains of calicivirus. For further information on protecting domestic rabbits, visit the Wheatbelt NRM website
For more information regarding the release, visit the DPIRD website.