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War on rabbits

Published: 15 May 2018

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Hare today, gone tomorrow

It's all-out war ahead on feral rabbits in the region after regional councils nationally were given the go-ahead to release the new Rabbit Haemorrhagic Virus Disease strain (RHDV1 K5) by the Ministry for Primary Industries in March.

Wild rabbits are a significant pest under the Regional Pest Management Plan and to effectively control these pests requires a range of control tools, with RHDV1 K5 being just one.

Controlled release planned for 2019

But a decision has been made not to release the virus this year; instead, there’s a plan for a controlled strategic release across the region in March and April 2019. Potential release sites have yet to be identified.

This allows time to talk with key stakeholders in the region such as local vets, pet owners, iwi, Department of Conservation, local boards, livestock and cropping operators.

A variant of the rabbit calicivirus, which has been in New Zealand since 1997, RHDV1 K5 is no “silver bullet” to the problem but just one of a suite of tools to be used to deliver the maximum benefit in the control of wild rabbit populations.

Hillside covered in rabbit holes
Hillside covered in rabbit holes

Timing of virus release is critical

The timing of release in early autumn is critical to ensure natural wild rabbit immunity is minimised. The uncontrolled release of the calicivirus by members of the public back in 1997 greatly reduced the effectiveness of the virus as a control.

Members of the public are requested not to try and spread RHDV1 K5 themselves but instead wait for the regionally coordinated release planned for 2019.

RHDV1 K5 will not be available for commercial sale and distribution in New Zealand and will not be available for sale to the general public.

Owners encouraged to vaccinate pet rabbits

A vaccine (Cylap) is available in New Zealand and has been helping to protect pet rabbits from the current RHDV1 for many years. This vaccine will also protect rabbits against the new RHDV1 K5. Pet rabbit owners are advised to talk to their local veterinarian to ensure their rabbits have the best protection available.

If you have any questions about RHDV1 K5 or you would like to see if your area meets the requirements of the Operational Protocol as a potential release site in 2019, please contact Auckland Council's Biosecurity team on 09 301 0101 or email

Or refer to Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research.