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Beyond the Bale : December 2017
There has been a 42% observed reduction in rabbit numbers following the release of the new strain of rabbit calicivirus in March this year, based on data from almost 200 release sites across Australia. Rabbits are Australia’s most costly environmental and agricultural vertebrate pest, causing an estimated production loss to the wool industry of $45 million per year and to the sheep-meat industry of $33 million per year (McLeod 2016). These costs would be much greater without myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) being introduced into Australia. It has been estimated that biological control agents have resulted in a rabbit population at about 15% of its potential size in Australia (Cooke et al. 2013). A strain of rabbit calicivirus (RHDV1 K5) new to Australia was released during the first week of March at 382 locations across the country, as part of the RHD Boost project funded through the Invasive Animals CRC with additional funding from AWI. After receiving pre- and post-count data from 191 participating release sites, the RHD Boost team has reported a 42% decrease in wild rabbit numbers has been observed since the release of RHDV1 K5 across the country. Through laboratory analysis, RHDV1 K5 RabbitScan – available free at www.rabbitscan. org.au – provides the ability to track the spread of rabbit biocontrol agents and viruses from a smart phone or computer, via a digital map. rabbit deaths have been confirmed in every state and territory, except NT. “This new strain of RHDV is boosting current biocontrol activity that is already impacting pest rabbit populations to help woolgrowers increase their productivity,” said AWI Program Manager Vertebrate Pests, Ian Evans. “However, rabbit biocontrol can be most beneficial if applied as part of an integrated and complementary pest management approach. After a rabbit population knockdown, warren destruction by ripping or other means should be considered, followed by mopping up activities such as shooting and trapping.” AWI funded a series of 10 short rabbit control videos to help ensure an effective rollout of RHDV1 K5 and provide information on conventional control methods such as warren fumigation and ripping. The videos are available at www.wool.com/rabbits. REPORTING DEAD RABBITS Now is the time to discover if RHDV1 K5 has moved and managed to persist in the environment. Infected rabbits spread RHDV1 K5 to other rabbits by direct contact or indirectly through faeces and ‘vectors’ such as insects, specifically bushflies and blowflies. With young rabbits appearing in Spring following winter breeding, and with more flies around as the weather warms up, RHDV should be on the move. Whether you’re from a release site or not, if you find some dead rabbits don’t forget to record these in the popular RabbitScan app and submit a sample for testing. Farmers, land managers and the community can play an important role in recording evidence of rabbit disease which can be used to guide local rabbit management activities. When you use RabbitScan to also submit a tissue sample, the research team will send a free, postage-paid sampling kit with full instructions on how to collect and send the sample. Once the tissue sample is analysed, an update on the digital map will record the results, and the person who submitted the sample will be notified with accurate information of what virus is affecting rabbits in their area or control site, which is valuable information for their local rabbit management plan. OBTAINING RHDV1 K5 The RHDV1 Czech v351 strain has been available to authorised users as a biological control agent since 1996. The RHDV1 K5 strain is now available for purchase. However the legislation surrounding the use of RHDV varies across the Australian states and territories. If RHDV is permitted to be supplied to you, you can order both RHDV strains in freeze-dried form from the NSW Department of Primary Industries Virology Laboratory. Refer to www.pestsmart.org.au/purchasing- rhdv1-k5 for further information. Before using RHDV, also check that the rabbit population is susceptible. Refer to www.pestsmart.org.au/purchasing-rhdv1-k5 and www.rabbitscan.org.au for further information. MORE INFORMATION www.pestsmart.org.au A rabbit eating oats laced with the RHDV1 K5 strain of rabbit calicivirus. PHOTO: Centre for Invasive Species Solutions. ON FARM 41