Breeding like rabbits
Rabbits cost the agricultural industry over 206 million dollars a year, unmeasured though is the cost on Australian native ecosystems from the negative impacts of feral rabbits.
It is thought that rabbits have directly or indirectly caused the extinction of over 300 native animals since their introduction into Australia, mainly through competition for food resources and the erosion of native areas through over grazing and burrow creation.
Rabbits are prolific breeders and an individuals control efforts can be ineffective.
Using a biological control adds another option for landholders looking at control options.
Unlike the original calicivirus release the knock down effect of the RHDV K5 strain of the calicivirus is a useful tool for reducing the amount of rabbits allowing for more effective follow up control.
The cumulative economic benefits for agriculture alone from MV and RHDV over 60 years are estimated at $70 Billion, or an average of $1.17 billion per year.
Rabbit control details
The PHBG Rabbit Control Program starts to ramp up around September each year.
Community members can register for the program at any time and during September information packages will go out to those who are registered.
Releasing a biocontrol is only effective if part of an integrative management plan that includes additional control techniques such as warren destruction, exclusion fencing, baiting and trapping.
The RHDV1 K5 calicivirus is not a silver bullet in rabbit control.
Community members are asked to do three pre feeding events prior to the release.
Rabbit numbers are monitored during pre-feeding events to provide base line data.
3. Inoculation of pellets
PHBG Officers are accredited to mix the virus and inoculate a medium for spreading. The virus is only active for a short time after inoculation so planning happens beforehand to organise pick up and drop offs of inoculated pellets to participants.
Six weeks after the virus is released on site participants are asked to replicate the monitoring done before the release to record rabbit numbers after the release.
5. Follow up control
Many people hope that releasing the calicivirus will assist them in reducing rabbit numbers. While the virus can be effective at reducing numbers at a site, that reduction will be short lived without follow up control.
Some Points on RHDV1 K5
From Pest Smart
K5 is not a new virus. It is a Korean strain of the existing virus already widespread in Australia.
K5 should work better in the cool-wet regions of Australia where the current strain has not been as successful.
K5 was selected because it can better overcome the protective effects of the benign calicivirus (RCA-A1) which naturally occurs in the feral rabbit population.
K5, like other RHDV1 variants is not infectious to any other species except the European rabbit.
K5 will not result in a 90% reduction of wild rabbit populations, rather it is expected to ‘boost’ the effects of the existing variant and help slow down the increase in rabbit numbers.
K5 is not the silver bullet for rabbit eradication in Australia and an integrated approach is required.
A vaccine to protect domestic rabbits against RHDV1 is available. Talk to a local vet for information.
Importance of Rabbit Biocontrol Video.
The cumulative environmental benefits of the release of MV in 1950 and RHDV in 1995 includes landscape scale native vegetation regeneration, increased abundance of native plants and animals, continued persistence of many native threatened species, large scale carbon biosequestration, and improved landscape and ecosystem resilience. The cumulative economic benefits for agriculture alone from MV and RHDV over 60 years are estimated at $70 Billion, or an average of $1.17 billion per year.