Approval to release new rabbit calicivirus strain

Environment Canterbury has received the approvals required for the importation and release of the new rabbit haemorrhagic virus disease strain, RHDV1 K5.

Graham Sullivan, Environment Canterbury Regional Leader Biosecurity, said the decision was an important milestone for the national consortium of agencies seeking to release RHDV1 K5 to reduce the significant environmental and agricultural impacts of wild rabbits.

“The major nationwide release will be undertaken through March and April 2018, as research suggests this is the optimal time to increase the effectiveness of the virus against wild rabbit populations,” Mr Sullivan said.  “The controlled release will use a high-quality commercially prepared product at selected sites identified by participating local councils.

“While not the silver bullet for rabbit control, we anticipate that the new strain will greatly assist the control of wild rabbit populations by supplementing more traditional control methods.  The impact of the RHDV1 K5 release will be monitored at a range of representative sites.”

RHDV1 K5 is not a new virus. It is a Korean strain of the existing RHDV1 virus already widespread in New Zealand and only affects the European rabbit.  RHDV1 K5 was selected for release because it can better overcome the protective effects of the benign calicivirus (RCA-A1), which occurs naturally in wild rabbit populations in New Zealand.

A vaccine (Cylap) is available in New Zealand which has been helping to protect rabbits from the current RHDV1 for many years.  Studies undertaken by the Australian government indicate that this vaccine will help protect pet rabbits against the RHDV1 K5 strain.

“Pet rabbit owners are advised to talk to their local veterinarian to ensure their rabbits have the best protection available,” Mr Sullivan said.  “Zoetis, the manufacturer of the vaccine, has confirmed that additional vaccine supplies have been made available in New Zealand for the release.”

Visit MPI's website for the approvals and frequently asked questions