Pest rabbits succumbing to Korean calicivirus

Tuesday, 14 March, 2017


CSIRO scientists have confirmed the first pest rabbit that has succumbed to the Korean strain of calicivirus, known as RHDV1 K5, just two weeks after the virus’s release at more than 600 sites across Australia.

Andreas Glanznig, CEO of the Invasive Animals CRC, said this result confirms that RHDV1 K5 is starting to work within the landscape and assist rabbit control efforts within Australia. The virus was introduced to boost the effects of the original variant, RHDV1, and to work better in cool-wet regions.

The dead rabbit was found near one of the national release sites, on the outskirts of Canberra. Other reports of dead rabbits have also come in from around Australia and been logged in the RabbitScan portal, though there has only been one case of RHDV1 K5 confirmed so far.

All release sites received tissue sample kits back in early February, and tissue samples are now starting to be mailed back to laboratory testing facilities for analysis. The samples are being analysed at three facilities based in the ACT (CSIRO), NSW (EMAI, NSW DPI) and SA (PIRSA) as part of the Invasive Animals CRC National RHDV Monitoring Program.

“We are still actively encouraging and reminding those involved in the release and members of the public who come across a dead rabbit to report it into RabbitScan,” said Glanznig.

“These reports are vital to our understanding of the movement of the disease around the country and will assist landholders in making future decisions about rabbit management.”

A pest rabbit taking a virus-laced carrot bait. Image taken by remote camera trap and supplied by Heather Barnes, Department of Parks and Wildlife.

Members of the public can view live updates of the rabbit disease through the Rabbit Biocontrol Tracker, which can be found via the ‘Report Disease’ function of RabbitScan.

Owners of domestic rabbits, meanwhile, can have their pets immunised, with the vaccine known as Cylap boasting a 20-year track record in Australia protecting rabbits from all RHDV1 strains. Zoetis, the manufacture of the vaccine, has confirmed that a new shipment of vaccine has arrived in Australia and orders are currently being filled through the various vaccine wholesalers.

Top image courtesy of JJ Harrison under CC BY-SA 2.0

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