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Rabbit control virus release potentially one step closer for Otago

Media Release - 08 February 2017

Rabbit relief may be in sight for landowners around Otago. The Otago Regional Council (ORC) has approved funding for the potential release of a virus that has up to 40% improvement of virus-related rabbit mortality on top of the current strain.

At a regulatory committee meeting held today, councillors approved $50,000 from reserve funding for the co-ordinated release of the K5 virus, which is a variant of the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHDV1) strain already in New Zealand.

Pending statutory approval by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the virus will be released at strategic locations throughout Otago this autumn.

ORC regulatory committee chairman Cr Bryan Scott said the release programme, should it go ahead, would be an investment in the Otago community’s rabbit control efforts.

“The priority areas are the Upper Clutha from Roxburgh through to Queenstown and Wanaka (including the Tarras area), the Strath Taieri area, Maniototo, and parts of coastal Otago including Balclutha, the Otago Peninsula and Shag Point/Moeraki areas,” Cr Scott said.

“For the K5 virus to have maximum impact it needs to be a controlled release with respect to location, timing, management and monitoring. We plan to use carrot bait treated with the virus and will need support from landowners so we can distribute the bait simultaneously,” he said.

ORC plans to monitor the effectiveness of the K5 strain using sites set up after the original strain was illegally released in 1997. Data already collected from the first release will help measure the success of the new strain. New monitoring sites would also be set up.

Cr Scott said that while exact figures are unknown, it’s expected the knockdown rate could be up to 40% in areas where the current strain of RHDV has been less effective.

"We need to bear in mind that this is not a silver bullet that will solve what is a problem region-wide. Landowners still need to actively manage rabbits on their property but this could be a much needed boost to control efforts."

The $50,000 approved will cover the cost of the virus, two pre-feed carrot applications and one treated carrot application, with landowners providing the labour to distribute the baits.

ORC is a member of the New Zealand Rabbit Coordination Group (RCG). Membership is made up of a collaboration of representatives from regional councils, district councils, the Department of Conservation, Land Information New Zealand, the Ministry for Primary Industries, Landcare Research, and Federated Farmers.

The RCG is in the process of obtaining statutory approval to register, import, and release RHDV1 K5, with Environment Canterbury acting on behalf of the group.

For more information contact

Scott MacLean
Director environmental monitoring and operations
ORC
Ph 0800 474 082 or 027 411 9459

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