New strain of calicivirus offers hope for wild rabbit and hare control

Agritalk: Hope for wild rabbit control

Biosecurity SA is urging landholders to submit dead rabbit and hare samples to help track the spread of a new strain of calicivirus in SA.

The haemorrhagic strain known as RHDV2 was discovered in France in 2010 and detected in Murray Bridge late last year.

It has now spread to parts of the south-east of the state and has also been detected in dead rabbits as far north as Balaklava and Koolunga in the state's Mid North.

Biosecurity SA said early signs are RHDV2 is likely to have a significant impact on reducing wild rabbit numbers with recent samples testing positive for the virus.

It has also been discovered that RHDV2 can infect and kill the European brown hare that was also introduced to Australia in the 19th century.

RHDV2 is a distinct genetic variant of the original strain of the RHDV1 virus, which was released in Australia in 1996 for the control of wild rabbits.

Spread primarily by flies, the impact of the virus on pet and farmed rabbits is high and can cause death in young kittens and a proportion of vaccinated adults.

The available RHDV1 vaccine is not fully protective against RHDV2 and revised protocols have been made available while a new vaccine is being developed.

Please contact your local veterinarian for further information about vaccinations.

We need your dead rabbits and dead hares

In South Australia, samples from dead rabbits and hares are needed to monitor the spread of RHDV2.

Data collected from the samples will assist researchers in identifying which strains of calicivirus are active and most effective in the different regions, and the timing of these outbreaks.

How to provide a sample

Look out for freshly dead, but otherwise healthy looking rabbits and hares. An infected animal will often show no outward cause of death, except their head may be arched backwards.

Collect the carcass (or its liver or hind legs) and store in the freezer in a plastic bag tagged with the location and date of the sample.

As hare samples are so rare and valuable, immediate phone contact will assist Biosceurity SA with collecting additional data.

If you find a dead hare, please call David Peacock, Research Officer, PIRSA Biosceuirty SA on 8303 9504 or your local Natural Resources Management (NRM) office to arrange collection or drop off of the sample.

Biosecurity SA tests samples from new areas at no cost to a landholder and will advise of the results.

Report sightings

Reports from landowners on wild rabbit and hare mortality events and changes in abundance provides researchers with vital information to monitor the effectiveness and spread of RHD and myxomatosis viruses. 

If you find a dead rabbit or hare on your property or have noticed a sudden drop or increase in population numbers, please contact Dr Peacock 8303 9504, email: David.Peacock@sa.gov.au.