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New rabbit calicivirus confirmed in Waikato

Testing of two dead rabbits – one a pet – found in Mātangi and Cambridge has confirmed the presence of an already identified new calicivirus in the region, says Waikato Regional Council.

Testing is also being carried out on rabbit carcasses found at Whangamatā, Te Pahu, Taupō and Kinloch.

RHDV2 is widespread in Europe, but had not been found in New Zealand until this year. It has already been confirmed in Marlborough and the Bay of Plenty.

RHDV2 affects European rabbits and at least two species of hares (Sardinian Cape hare and the Italian hare) and can cause mortality in young animals from 11 days onwards.

“While RHDV2 is more virulent, it has a lower mortality rate and may create immunity to the K5 virus, released by regional councils under strict controls earlier this year, and the existing RHDV1 virus,” said Chris Monk, Waikato Regional Council’s biosecurity pest animals officer.

“One of the two dead rabbits tested was a pet, so news of this new virus in the Waikato will be of concern to pet rabbit owners. We urge them to ensure their rabbits are up-to-date with vaccinations and don’t have contact with wild rabbits,” Mr Monk said.

At the same time, landowners are being encouraged to continue with their rabbit control operations.

“We’re into the rabbit breeding season, so there will be noticeably more rabbits around at this time of year. Where wild rabbits are an issue we’re recommending landowners undertake conventional control, such as shooting, poisoning and fumigation.

“But like all other pest control, it’s often pointless undertaking rabbit control in isolation. To be successful, we recommend combining your efforts with your neighbours, because rabbits don’t recognise property boundaries,” Mr Monk said.

“We have a large amount of information on our website on ways to discourage wild rabbits and control them, and our staff are available to answer questions too. Visit waikatoregion.govt.nz/rabbits or call 0800 800 401.”

Advice for rabbit owners

There are a number of practical steps rabbit owners can take to minimise the calicivirus risk to their rabbits.

  • Keep them separate from wild rabbits.
  • Wash hands between handling rabbits.
  • Control insects around pet rabbits as they can spread the virus between rabbits.
  • Avoid cutting grass and feeding it to pet rabbits.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect cages and equipment.

Vaccines for the viruses have been imported into New Zealand and are available through veterinarians for pet rabbits. For further information, talk with your vet or visit MPI’s website.(external link)

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