28 Feb 2018

Rabbit killing virus too slow to arrive, say farmers

11:42 am on 28 February 2018

Farmers who are becoming increasingly frustrated at out-of-control rabbit numbers are relieved a new rabbit-killing virus is going to be released next month.

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Photo: Supplied / DoC

It is hoped the new strain of calicivirus will kill off between 40 and 80 percent of the country's wild rabbits

The hillsides and the coastline in Moeraki in Otago are crawling with rabbits, farmer Doug Stalker said.

He thought the K5 strain should have been released two years ago, before rabbit numbers exploded.

"Even if it kills 40 to 50 percent, they've still left it too long, because that's still a big population of rabbits left behind, I think they should have moved faster than what they have."

It was getting to such a critical state people might have acted on their own, as they did in 1997 when a different strain of the virus was illegally released here.

While rabbits were now immune to the effects of that virus, releasing the new one properly should help kill more, Mr Stalker said.

"They will introduce this one at an optimum time of the year so that we get an optimum spread, which will make it have a longer lasting activity. A lot of the rabbits built an immunity because it was introduced at the wrong time last time, the wrong time of year."

According to the Ministry for Primary Industries, baby rabbits exposed to the virus when they're between six and eight-weeks-old can end up with lifelong immunity.

Federated Farmers Otago president Phill Hunt said farmers were pleased a common sense decision had been made, so they did not have to take matters into their own hands again.

He said the long hot summer and a low mortality rate had lead to rabbit numbers reaching peaks they had in the past, in some places.

People with pet rabbits needed to make sure they get them vaccinated against the virus, he said.

Farmers were aware the virus was only one tool in managing rabbit numbers, and other measures would still be needed in keeping rabbits at bay.

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