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Rabbit numbers prompt calls for approval of new strain of calici virus

Residents and businesses in the coastal Otago town of Moeraki are welcoming an expected release of a new virus to curb the number of rabbits.

Visitors to Moeraki seem to enjoy the animals, but the residents aren't so impressed. Source: 1 NEWS

The Ministry for Primary Industries is considering the Korean or 'K5' strain of the rabbit calici virus after Environment Canterbury sought approval to use it. If granted, the new strain will be released nationally as required.

At this time of year Moeraki, famous for its beach boulders, is usually gearing up for an influx of summer tourists, but there are waves of rabbits infesting the town.

A bumper breeding season has provided plenty of rabbits to make tourists gush in Moeraki, but the local residents aren't so impressed.

Mark Brady's lawn mowing business has been cut down to mowing daisies and thistles.

"There's just no grass there because of the rabbits," he told 1 NEWS.

So an expected release of the new strain of calici virus is being welcomed.

"We can't shoot because we're in a town. We can't poison because of dogs. So we're sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place really," said Robbie Mitchell of Moeraki Holiday Park.

Calici virus was first introduced in 1997, illegally imported into Central Otago by farmers.

"When we first came here the virus must have gone through so we hardly had any rabbits around the place. But now I think it's starting to become a major problem," said Kristina Mitchell of the holiday park.

Environment Canterbury says the new strain causes a fatal hemorrhaging disease and chronic organ failure in infected rabbits, but a vaccine is available for pet rabbits.

Ecan believes the new strain may help overcome resistance to the old virus, so if approved, the rabbits of Moeraki's days look numbered.