Participation of Council in a program to control wild European Rabbits
Council views community concerns over the impacts of wild rabbit populations within the Wollondilly Local Government Area as highly important. Council was therefore pleased that its application to the National Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre (Invasive Animals CRC) to participate in the national release of a biological control for this species was successful. The biological control to be released is a new strain of an existing biological control virus which is only harmful to European Rabbits. Council nominated Tahmoor Sportsground as a release site due to its size and known presence of wild rabbits.
Council has prepared a short Frequently Asked Questions below to answer some of the questions you may have about this program. However, if you have any further enquiries, you can contact Quentin Hart from the NSW Department of Primary Industries on 0428 763 153.
Are there intended to be future releases of the virus strain in other parts of the Wollondilly Local Government Area?
The release of the virus strain at Tahmoor Park forms part of a coordinated national release at strategically selected locations designed to achieve maximum spread amongst wild rabbits in Australia. A DPI Officer has advised Council Staff that the virus will hopefully persist in the environment and spread throughout the current wild rabbit distribution.
There is no intention for any additional future releases of the virus to take place in Wollondilly based on this DPI advice. However, the effectiveness of the distribution and effectiveness of the virus release in reducing wild rabbit population numbers will be monitored by the LLS. Any approach by the LLS to carry out further releases in the local area will be considered by Council.
The Invasive Animals CRC advises that the RHDV 1K5 strain will largely be transmitted amongst wild rabbits by transportation through airborne insects such as flies, the transfer of bodily fluid or by the absorption of the virus from infected surfaces such as hay, food, clothing, shoes and equipment. The Invasive Animals CRC further advises that the virus may spread quickly to potentially hundreds of kilometres from each of the strategically selected release sites in Australia.
Is the virus harmful to humans and/or native wildlife? The DPI has advised that the virus is not harmful in any way to humans, and is not harmful to any animal (including hares) other than European Rabbits.
The DPI has advised that the virus is not harmful in any way to humans, and is not harmful to any animal (including hares) other than European Rabbits.
The DPI initiated an annual program in 2009 to reduce and manage impacts caused by wild rabbit populations using biological controls. The DPI as part of this program has utilised a biological control known as Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD Virus), which is an acute disease that only affects European Rabbits. The DPI advises that the utilisation of this virus is one of the more humane methods in controlling wild rabbits and associated impacts.
A range of definitions exist for biological control however it broadly involves the release of natural enemies to pests or pathogens (such as bacteria), to control populations.
The Invasive Animals CRC is leading the coordinated national release of a new strain of the RHD Virus in association with DPI and various Regional Offices of the LLS. The strain of the existing virus to be released is known as RHDV 1K5. The Invasive Animals CRC advises that this is not a new virus but is a Korean variation of the existing virus, which is already widespread in Australia following earlier releases.
The Invasive Animals CRC has adopted a three-stage process for the release of the new strain of the RHD Virus with the first stage involving evening surveys to obtain an accurate understanding of the numbers of wild rabbits at individual sites. The second stage involves the feeding of standard carrots to the wild rabbits. The final stage involves the feeding of carrots containing the RHDV 1K5 virus.
The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) is the lead agency for invasive species policy in NSW, including wild rabbits. Wild rabbits are broadly defined as those rabbits not held in captivity or owned as pets.
The LLS has responsibilities on a regional and local scale in coordinating programs to control the wild rabbit population and associated environmental impacts.
All land managers have a responsibility to effectively manage wild rabbits on their properties under the Local Land Services (Wild Rabbits) Pest Control Order 2016. Local government has responsibilities for the management and control of wild rabbits in NSW. These largely relate to responding to impacts associated with this species such as removing burrows on public land as well as responding to community concerns.
The Invasive Animals CRC advises that the new strain of the virus is being released nationally in response to increased immunity observed amongst European Rabbits to previous strains of the RHD Virus. The Invasive Animals CRC further advises that the new strain has improved effectiveness in controlling wild rabbit populations.in regions with higher rainfall and cooler winters compared to previously released strains.
It is considered the participation of Council in the release of the biological control program will enhance the effectiveness of this biological control in reducing wild rabbit populations and address some of the community concerns that have been raised regarding wild rabbits. Council nominated Tahmoor Sportsground as a release site due to its size and known presence of wild rabbits.
Council Staff will undertake surveys over three consecutive evenings to record the numbers of wild rabbits. This will be followed by a further 3 consecutive evenings involving the feeding of uninfected carrots based on instructions provided by the Invasive Animals CRC and Local Land Services (LLS). The purpose of this approach is to encourage the subsequent consumption of carrots containing the biological control given the strong likelihood that wild rabbits would not have previously consumed carrots.
The various strains of the RHD Virus already prevalent within Australia have the potential to infect pet European Rabbits. The Information Guide provided to Council by the DPI states in relation to this matter:
“The existing RHDV1 vaccine has been shown to be effective against RHDV1 K5. However, it is advised that pet rabbit owners consult a veterinarian for advice on RHDV prevention and protection”.
Some recommended steps pet rabbit owners can take to protect their rabbits include:
• Prevent direct and indirect contact between domestic and wild rabbits. Examples of indirect contact include cutting grass that has had wild rabbits on it and feeding the grass to domestic rabbits or placing in hutches.
• Implement good insect control such as insect proofing the hutch will help reduce the risks of introduction of both RH-DV and myxcomatosis.
• Wash hands with warm soapy water between handling potentially infected wild and pet rabbits.
The Australian Veterinary Association has also recommended in relation to this matter that
• All domestic rabbit owners be reminded to vaccinate their rabbits prior to the release of RHDV1 K5 and/or ensure their animals’ vaccinations are up-to-date”.
• Rabbits be kept in insect proof enclosures or inside as a further measure to reduce the risk of contracting the virus