Carrots laid to lure rabbits to deadly virus by Otago Regional Council

Otago Regional Council plans to release the RHDV1 K5 later in March.
Otago Regional Council plans to release the RHDV1 K5 later in March. Photo credit: Otago Regional Council

Free carrots are being laid in Otago to get rabbits used to eating the vegetable when they are laced with the deathly rabbit virus later this month.

Otago Regional Council (ORC) plans to release the RHDV1 K5 (K5) rabbit virus, which could reduce the region's rabbit population by over 40 percent. 

ORC Director of environmental monitoring and operations Scott MacLean says the virus needs to be released before the weather turns colder.

"Now is the optimal time to introduce the virus. While it spreads naturally between rabbits, it relies on flies to spread it further and fly numbers decrease as the weather cools," he says.

ORC staff are currently putting out carrots at strategic locations around Otago, to get the rabbits used to eating them before the bait with the virus in it is put out later in the month, he says.

"We have selected locations based on science telling us how close the release sites need to be for the virus to have maximum impact. 

"We're also targeting the areas with the biggest rabbit problems. Once released, it should start to take effect within a couple of days, and we could see a reduction in rabbit numbers within the next month or two," Mr MacLean says.

RHDV1 is already present in New Zealand wild rabbits, but the new virus will be introduced to overcome the protective effects of RCA-A1 or benign calicivirus.

The introduction of the new strain of the virus has been met with mixed reactions. Farmers are relieved, while rabbit owners are concerned of the effects on their pets. 

ORC will release the virus at over 100 locations around Otago, and are working closely with a number of landowners to coordinate the release, Mr MacLean says.


The NZ Veterinary Association's recommendations to avoid RhDV1-K5:

Vaccinate rabbits at 10-12 weeks with a booster at 14-16 weeks and then annually

Control insects (especially flies and fleas) as much as possible both indoors and outdoors

Remove uneaten food on a daily basis

Keep your pet rabbit indoors where possible

Rabbit-proof your backyard to prevent access by wild rabbits

Regularly decontaminate equipment and materials

Limit contact with and handling of unfamiliar pet rabbits

Use good biosecurity measures after handling other people's rabbits

Avoid cutting grass and feeding it to your rabbits if there is the risk of contamination from wild rabbits.