Ecological Society of Australia supports control of introduced rabbits

The Ecological Society of Australia supports this month’s release of a virus to control rabbits.

‘Rabbits cause significant environmental problems,’ says Dr Euan Ritchie from Deakin University, Director of the Ecological Society of Australia’s Media Group. ‘They are among Australia’s most destructive agricultural pest animals, costing an estimated $200 million in lost agricultural production each year.’

‘Two rabbits can become 200 rabbits in two years, and two years after that can become 40,000 rabbits.’

The virus released this month is a strain of the existing rabbit-control virus in Australia, commonly called calicivirus, which was extremely effective when released in 1996. ‘Threatened plants in particular staged dramatic recoveries following the calicivirus release,’ says Dr Ritchie. ‘But immunity has become a problem over the past 20 years.’

After an international search for new strains of the virus, and tests on 38 variants, a Korean strain of the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus, known as RHDV1 K5, was identified as one that could work better than the current rabbit viruses in Australia.

‘RHDV1 K5 is naturally occurring, and not a new virus,’ says Dr Ritchie. ‘It will not kill all rabbits as pet rabbits can be protected. This release is a way of controlling increasing rabbit numbers, and the damage they do to Australian agriculture, native species and biodiversity.’

The Ecological Society of Australia is the peak group of ecologists in Australia, with over 1100 members from all states and territories.