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New Zealand: Cautious approach linked to rabbit virus delay

Staff Writer |
Rabbits have been major pests since they were introduced to New Zealand in the mid-1800s.

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In 1997, the disease known both as rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) or as rabbit calicivirus was illegally imported into New Zealand in an attempt to control feral rabbits.

The introduction dented rabbit numbers for a while but as animals have developed immunity numbers have built up again.

A new strain of virus, called RHDV1-K5, is reported to have the potential to help New Zealand farmers slash rabbit numbers by up to 30 per cent.

Farmers had been expecting the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Virus Disease strain known as K5 to be released earlier last year. The virus could help deal with the problem of rabbits moving back into areas that had been cleared.

RHDV1 K5 is a Korean strain believed to better overcome the protective effects of a benign calicivirus which also naturally occurs in feral rabbit populations and confers some immunity to the existing RHDV1.

But Canterbury Regional Council said the introduction would be delayed by a year and set March 2018 as the new release date. It had to do more work to have the virus approved by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

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