Rabbit virus to save $200 million annual loss

File photo.
File photo.

The next step in rabbit control is on the way as several areas have passed as trial sites for a new strain of the rabbit calicivirus, RHDV1 K5.

Land owners in Cambrai, Lameroo, Meningie and Sedan will be participating in the trial of the new strain next Autumn. 

Rabbits are a huge problem, causing about $200 million worth of loss across Australia each year.

Biosecurity SA Research Officer Greg Mutze said rabbits cause two types of damage, environmental and agricultural.

“Rabbits are sever pests to native vegetation,” he said. 

They eat away at vegetation they find palatable and leave the non-palatable.

Mr Mutze said they have cause a huge amount of destruction to shea-oak trees in the Coorong and native orchids. 

He said they cause a large amount of damage to farmers’ crops.

“If they’re living on a road side, next to a crop, they’re eating the crop which causes a huge economic loss for the farmer.”

They also create a reduction in pastoral potential for livestock.

“It’s been a very big problem that’s hard to detect,” he said.

The first calicivirus was introduced in 1995 which was extremely effective in dry areas.

However, since 2003, the rabbit population has been showing a gradual recovery which has sparked the introduction of the new strain.

“It was chosen because we think it may be more effective in cooler, wetter areas than the first one,” he said.

“What we are hoping, is that when the K5 is released, there will be more benefit in those cooler environments.

“We don’t think it’s going to cause the massive reduction in numbers that the original strain caused,” Mr Mutze said. 

He said this was due to the overall lower population now compared with when the original virus was released and that the when the original was release, the entire population was susceptible to the virus however now, some may be immune.

Mr Mutze said they are hoping for the strain to spread naturally and for there to be very little ongoing cost.

He also said people should not worry about the spread to other species as it has been extensively tested and has never shown harm to any other animals. 

Member for Barker Tony Pasin said he welcomed the support from local residents trialling the virus to protect the local industry.

This story $200 million dollar problem first appeared on The Murray Valley Standard.