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Farmers shouldn't have kittens over timing rabbit virus traps

Timing the release of a lethal virus helps landholders collectively combat the rabbit pest, the NSW Department of Primary Industries has warned.

Rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) has a high likelihood to cause fatal disease in European rabbits and new research released by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) claims it is critical the virus is released when young rabbits are absent.

In Australia, there are two species of the virus known as RHDV1 and RHDV2, with RHDV1 being used as a biological control agent to reduce the feral rabbit population.

The findings come as a stark warning for land managers in Australia, who are encouraged to take advice with proven track records onboard and to use the virus – considered a valuable biocontrol mechanism – during rabbits’ non-breeding season.

DPI research scientist, Patrick Taggart, urged land managers to “get the timing right” with impacts from rabbits potentially threatening agricultural lands, various native species and the environment:

“RHDV should be released only when young rabbits are not present, as rabbits under ten weeks old are resistant to RHDV and once infected they are likely to recover and become immune for life.” 
“When these immune rabbits breed, their immunity is temporarily passed to their offspring, which we expect will make it harder to control rabbit populations in the future.” 
 “Using RHDV at the wrong time potentially increases, rather than decreases, rabbit numbers and risks the effectiveness of future efforts to control this invasive pest.” 

Australia’s agricultural sector stands $1 billion a year better off from viral biocontrol methods.

Rabbits nonetheless remain a financial burden on the industry, with costs still blowing out by an estimated $200m per year.


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