Virus released to control Otago rabbit numbers beginning to take effect




A virus released to control high rabbit numbers in Otago has begun to take hold.

Scientists are asking farmers to behave themselves and not illegally obtain the virus, as happened previously in the 1990s.

Source: 1 NEWS

Samples taken by the Otago Regional Council showed the RHDV1 K5 virus released in March and April was beginning to have its desired effect in exterminating pest rabbits.

Council director of environmental monitoring and operations Scott MacLean says the news is positive but encouraged landowners to show patience and allow the virus to spread naturally.

"Human intervention can potentially result in rabbits becoming immune to the virus, so people need to be patient and leave any rabbit carcasses in place so the virus can take hold biologically," he said today.

"This not only gives the virus the best chance to be effective, but also means it will have a better ongoing impact for years to come."

The K5 virus is spread by rabbit-to-rabbit contact and the regional council expects it to spread in a 20-km radius from each of the 100 release sites throughout Otago over the next couple of months, covering the majority of the region.

However, traditional rabbit management methods won't be replaced by the virus and secondary control is needed to keep rabbit numbers down.

"Now is the time for land owners to plan secondary control for rabbits that they can carry out over winter. By then the virus should be well established, and winter is also the optimal season for rabbit control," Mr McLean said.

RHD was illegally introduced to New Zealand in 1997 but the original virus strain became increasingly less effective against populations.

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