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The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has approved applications for the importation and release of the new Rabbit Haemorrhagic Virus Disease strain known as RHDV1 K5.

This decision is a significant milestone for the national consortium of agencies seeking to release RHDV1 K5 to reduce the significant environmental and agricultural impacts of wild rabbits.

The major nationwide release will be undertaken through March and April 2018, as research suggests this is the optimal time to increase the effectiveness of the virus against wild rabbit populations. The controlled release will use a high-quality commercially prepared product at selected sites identified by participating local councils.

Whilst not the ‘silver bullet’ for rabbit control, it is anticipated that the new strain will greatly assist the control of wild rabbit populations by supplementing more traditional control methods. The impact of the RHDV1 K5 release will be monitored at a range of representative sites.

NZ Rabbit RHDV Tracker

Use the New Zealand Rabbit RHDV Tracker application if you want to:

NZ Rabbit RHDV Tracker

 New Zealand Rabbit RHDV Tracker

See where RHDV1 K5 is being released or detected


New Zealand Rabbit RHDV Tracker Record & Submit Sample

Submit a sample of liver (or bone marrow) from a rabbit that is believed to have died from RHDV for RHDV strain verification

About RHDV1 K5

Key Facts

  • RHDV1 K5 is not a new virus. It is a Korean strain of the existing RHDV1 virus already widespread in New Zealand.
  • RHDV1 K5 was selected for release in Australia because it can better overcome the protective effects of the benign calicivirus (RCA-A1), which occurs naturally in the feral rabbit populations in both Australia and New Zealand.
  • Replacing the existing virus with a new strain may assist in overcoming resistance to the old virus.
  • RHDV1 K5, like other RHDV1 variants, only infects the European rabbit and no other species.
  • RHDV1 K5 is expected to ‘boost’ the effects of the existing RHDV1 strain and help slow the increase in rabbit numbers.
  • RHDV1 K5 is not a silver bullet for rabbit eradication in New Zealand, and a long-term integrated approach to controlling pest rabbits is required.
  • The currently available RHDV vaccine will protect domestic/pet rabbits against RHDV1. There are no human health risks associated with RHDV.
  • A controlled release is needed to ensure a higher-quality commercially prepared product is made available and that the release can be appropriately managed and monitored. This approach will increase the likelihood of success and maximise benefits to farmers and the environment.

European rabbits are significant agricultural and ecological pests in New Zealand. They compete very effectively with livestock for pasture, and 7 to 10 rabbits may consume as much feed as one ewe. Rabbits also provide a stable food source for ferrets, which are carriers of bovine tuberculosis. Burrowing and scrapes cause extensive damage on erosion-prone soils, so much so that agricultural land can be rendered useless and water quality declines. Historically, rabbit-infested farms were abandoned because owners could not make a living.

Rabbits also threaten native biodiversity and conservation values by over-browsing vulnerable plant communities, and, as year-round prey, support increased numbers of mammalian pests (stoats, cats, ferrets) that predate on native birds and animals.

Following extensive research, a new variant of rabbit haemorrhagic virus known as RHDV1 K5 has been approved for registration in Australia by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APMVA). The Australian release of RHDV1 K5 is currently underway.

RHDV1 K5 is also a potentially significant biological control tool for pest rabbits in New Zealand. While exact figures are unknown, it is expected there will be improved knockdown in those areas where the current strain of RHDV is less effective. This could be anywhere from 0 to 40% and will depend on the location of the rabbit population and the number of susceptible animals within the population.


Contributing organisations