Rabbits and their impact on native flora and fauna

rabbitRabbit control programs often focus on the significant threat that rabbits pose to agriculture, primarily through competition for pasture and erosion impacts. However, rabbits also have a big impact on native flora and fauna, with 304 species affected, including 24 critically endangered species such as the Pygmy possum, the Orange bellied parrot and the Ballerina orchid. Let’s look at how rabbits transform the landscape and what options landholders have to reduce their numbers, including the upcoming national release of a new strain of calicivirus.

Grazing and burrowing by rabbits can cause serious erosion problems, reduce natural regeneration and survival of native plants, cause significant damage to revegetation projects, and modify entire landscapes. Rabbits also threaten the survival of a number of native animal species by altering their habitat, reducing native food sources, displacing small animals from burrows, and attracting introduced predators such as foxes, wild dogs and feral cats.

In the first week of March 2017, a new strain of the Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus, known as RHDV1 K5, will be released nationally. RHDV1 K5 is the Korean strain of a naturally-occurring rabbit virus first released here in 1996 to manage the impact of pest rabbits on the Australian environment and agriculture. This new strain of the calicivirus is expected to work more effectively in cooler, moister climates like we have here on the coast, targeting rabbits that have not been affected by the previous strain.

Local Land Services will coordinate the release across the Bega Valley and Eurobodalla Shires. Free RHDV inoculated carrots will be provided to landholders in strategic sites across parts of the Bega Valley and Eurobodalla. Participants need to be willing to participate in follow up monitoring, have an AQF3 Chemical Handling Certificate and live in on a rural property with an significant rabbit population. To discuss your eligibility, contact Jake Tanner at Local Land Services on 6491 7800 or email jake.tanner@lls.nsw.gov.au.

You may also wish to join Feral Fighters which targets pest animals at a regional and state scale through strategic, coordinated group baiting and control programs. This year, Feral Fighters will expand its target species to include rabbits, encouraging land managers to implement a range of rabbit control methods to boost the effectiveness of the new RHDV K5 virus (as the virus will only affect a proportion of rabbits). Participants receive free vertebrate pesticide training, free baits, information and support. To join Feral Fighters or for advice about appropriate follow up control on your property, contact Jake Tanner on 6491 7800.

NSW DPI advises rabbit owners to vaccinate domestic rabbits and contact a veterinarian for advice on how to protect their rabbits, with online information available from the Australian Veterinary Association http://www.ava.com.au/rabbit-calicivirus

For more information about the rollout of RHDV1 K5, visit the Pestsmart website http://www.pestsmart.org.au/boosting-rabbit-biocontrol-rhdv-k5-national-release/

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