​​Media Release

New weapon in war on wild rabbits

27 October 2016

  • More than 600 sites across Australia will participate in the release of a new variant of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus - RHDV1 K5.
  • It’s been 20 years since the last rabbit biocontrol was released in Australia.
  • A RabbitScan mobile app is now available to enable people to contribute to the national data set to monitor the spread of the virus.

A new virus known as RHDV1 K5 will be trialled next year at more than 600 sites across Australia in an effort to significantly reduce wild rabbit populations and their negative impact on agricultural production and native ecosystems.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, welcomed the 755 expressions of interest received from groups wanting to take part in the national roll-out of the new virus.

Minister Joyce said community organisations, Landcare groups and government land managers will be participating in the national rollout of the virus as part of the Coalition Government’s $1.2 million commitment to assist with the research and development of new rabbit control methods.

“Australia has a good track record when it comes to the biological control of rabbits. When we first released rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus in 1995, populations had multiplied to around 600 million, and we managed to reduce this by 98 per cent in arid areas,” Minister Joyce said.

“This built on the massive reductions achieved in the 1950s from the release of the myxoma virus, which killed more than 85% of Australia’s rabbit population.

“It gave the environment time to regenerate and our farmers a fighting chance to keep rabbits at bay using traditional pest management techniques like baiting and traps."

Rabbit populations are on the rise again and Member for Calare, Andrew Gee, said he welcomed the new coordinated effort between governments, researchers and communities to address these pests and reduce the cost to farmers and the environment.

“Calare saw a huge expression of interest and 13 sites have been successful around Dubbo, Wellington, Mendooran and Dunedoo,” Mr Gee said.

“Estimates show a conservative knockdown of the rabbit population somewhere between 10 and 40 per cent, dependent on the location and conditions. It’s no silver bullet, but it’s our best option to address resistance to existing RHDV strains.”

“For the sites not selected as a part of this roll-out, I encourage you - and everyone - to get involved by downloading the RabbitScan mobile app and contribute to the national data set that will monitor the spread of the virus and the impact on rabbit populations,” Minister Joyce said.

RabbitScan can be downloaded from rabbitscan.org.au

A commercial product will also be available shortly after the official release.

For more details about the RHD-Boost project, visit healthierlandscapes.org.au​

Fast facts:

  • RHDV1 K5 is a naturally occurring Korean variant of the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus currently found in Australia.
  • RHDV1 K5 is estimated to have a conservative knockdown average between 10 and 15% of the wild rabbit population in Australia, and up to 40% in cool-wet areas.
  • RHDV1 K5 was selected for the national programme to boost rabbit biocontrol on the basis that it should work better in cool-wet regions of Australia where rabbit populations have demonstrated resistance to the existing RHDV strains.
  • The national trials of RHDV1 K5 is the culmination of work undertaken by the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre.
  • A vaccine to protect domestic rabbits against RHDV1 has been available in Australia since 1996 and studies demonstrate effective protection against the RHDV1 K5 variant.