The planned introduction of the RHDV1 K5 (K5) rabbit virus in Otago is good news for Central Otago’s farmers and the local council and forestry owners are also pleased.
The Otago Regional Council (ORC) announced earlier this week that it, along with Environment Canterbury, had received approval to import and release the virus.
The ORC plans to release the virus at more than 100 sites in Otago in late March and April and it is expected the rabbit population could eventually be reduced by more than 40%.
Ernslaw One Ltd owns forests in the Otago-Southland region, including 2000ha in Naseby.
Company Otago-Southland regional manager Phil De La Mare said the introduction “had to be a good thing”, as rabbits ate seedlings and did a lot of damage.
“We have the same issues as the neighbouring farmers and we have joint responsibilities to keep numbers down.”
Shooting and poisoning programmes, as well as erecting rabbit fencing, involved big costsfor all landowners.
“It [the introduction of K5] is very much a positive thing,” he said.
Central Otago District Council Parks and Reserves manager Mat Begg said the department looked after about 250ha of developed land, including parks and sports grounds, and rabbits were a big challenge.
“From our point of view, any help to control rabbits is welcome,” Mr Begg said.
He said rabbits ate young plants and council used netting around them to try to “stop them being munched”.
The level of action required by the council to control the pest varied from area to area and was dependent on what was happening on surrounding land.
ORC director environmental monitoring and operations Scott MacLean said the approval of K5 was good news for Otago.
“Rabbits are the No1 pest in Otago,” he said.
“Ten rabbits can eat as much grass as one sheep.
“The K5 virus may give us the opportunity to reduce rabbit numbers to the level where they are manageable.
“It will be especially beneficial in areas where traditional rabbit management methods are either not possible or not acceptable.”
He said the ORC had already identified the most strategic release sites in anticipation of the virus being approved, and was preparing to put the plan into action.
The virus will be released in the form of a commercially prepared product.
“Once we have more detail, we plan to work in collaboration with landowners so we can all get the best outcome,” Mr MacLean said.
“The virus is just one tool to help landowners manage rabbit populations, but it doesn’t replace primary methods.
“In areas like Moeraki and Naseby, where traditional management methods are more challenging, the virus will definitely help,” Mr MacLean said.
People need to make sure their pet rabbit vaccinations are up to date to protect against the K5 virus.