​Media Release

$1.2 million in new funding to assist develop rabbit controls

20 August 2015

The Australian Government today announced a $1.2 million grant to the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) to assist in the national roll out of a new naturally occurring overseas strain of rabbit calicivirus called K5 which will boost existing biological control agents that are already out in the environment. 

Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, said the grant reflected the government's commitment to supporting a collaborative approach to pest animal management and research.  

"Effective management of pest animals is critical to productivity and profitability at the farmgate," Minister Joyce said. 

"As a child there was land in my district that was well known as rabbit struck. It did not matter if it rained, it was always bare. We trapped them, we shot them and we poisoned them, but in the end it was the first generation biocontrols myxomatosis and calicivrus that effectively reduced rabbit numbers. 

"Rabbits cause over $200 million in damage across the country each year, much of that on Australian farms. 

"They actively compete with Australian livestock and—particularly during drought—can strip pastures bare.  Just two rabbits per hectare are enough to stop plant regeneration. 

"The release of rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) virus in 1996-98 reduced populations by more than 50 per cent in some regions of Australia. The benefits to agriculture have been estimated to be worth $6 billion to the nation to date, or an average $350 million a year. 

"It was a fantastic example of the real-world benefits that strong R&D investment delivers, however the virus has, over time, led to have a patchy distribution. 

"A new strain of calicivirus has been identified, and now subject to appropriate approvals, we will be ready to release it nationally to assist farmers, the environment and rural communities. This grant of $1.2 million will allow a more comprehensive release across the nation," Minister Joyce said today. 

Minister Joyce said that the release of the new K5 calicivirus strain will be supported by broad scale, community driven surveillance from next year to ensure agricultural and environmental benefits are realised, as well as ongoing laboratory work to develop new and tailored strains of RHD. 

"I commend all of our partners in this project including Australian Wool Innovation, Meat and Livestock Australia, state and territory governments, particularly New South Wales who is the lead project proponent and major investor, University of Canberra, University of Adelaide, CSIRO and Foundation for Rabbit Free Australia," Minister Joyce said. 

"It is important that we have a vision for the management of rabbits - Australian agriculture's most costly vertebrate pest animal and threat to Australia's biodiversity. 

"This partnership through the Invasive Animals CRC has enabled the largest strategic rabbit biocontrol program in nearly two decades. 

"Biocontrol alone is not a silver bullet though and we need land managers to be vigilant in not taking their foot off the pedal when it comes to regular rabbit control." 

For more details about the RHD-Boost project, visit the Invasive Animals CRC website www.invasiveanimals.com.