Rabbit virus program wins top national bio-security award

The Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (CISS) is honoured to receive one of the Australian Governments’ top biosecurity awards for its role in coordinating the release, monitoring and evaluation of a new rabbit biocontrol agent – the first nationally coordinated release in more than 20 years.

RHDV1 K5 – a Korean strain of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus – was released across 323 community sites within Australia in March 2017. At the same time, CISS (formerly the Invasive Animals CRC) set up the National Rabbit Biocontrol Monitoring Program, to enable communities to effectively measure virus impact.

Andreas Glanznig, CISS CEO said the award showcases the value of strong collaboration across research, government and industry bodies.

“The release and subsequent monitoring and evaluation of RHDV1 K5 was a massive combined effort with investment and support from the Australian Government, all state and territory governments, the CSIRO and the livestock industry through Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and Australian Wool Innovation (AWI).

“Since 2009, the collaboration ensured thatRHDV1 K5 was rigorously tested, assessed, registered and released at a national scale, consistent with our Centre’s rabbit biocontrol pipeline strategy outlining the need for new and additional biocontrol tools every eight to ten years, to keep rabbit populations at bay,” Mr Glanznig said.

Dr Tanja Strive,CSIRO Principal Research Scientist, who leads CISS’sbiocontrol program said that this was first time a vertebrate pest biocontrol release was tracked digitally through the National Rabbit Biocontrol Monitoring Program.

“As part of this National Program, laboratory tools were developed to determine the spread and impact of different viruses, including RHDV1 K5 and RHDV2; an incursion of a new virus discovered in 2015.

“On-line rabbit-specific disease observation and sample submission tools, developed through RabbitScan, allowed participants within the community release sites to track the spread of virus, as well as collect population data counts pre and post release.

“Thanks to the support of the community, the Program collected more than 230 community release site data sets and has analysed more than a thousand rabbit tissue samples to paint a map of rabbit virus distribution in Australia over the past two years, with all data fully available to view online.

“Based on data collected through the strong collaboration with the community sites we saw an average reduction in rabbit numbers of 34%, one-month post release,” Dr Strive said.

Dr Jane Littlejohn, AWI General Manager of Research reiterated the importance of industry support and investment in such national collaborations.

“Both AWI and MLA are proud to involve ourselves in these national collaborations to ensure we are getting strategic vertebrate pest management tools into the hands of farmers, producers and land managers quicker, ensuring value for money and effort.

“We continue to invest, with MLA, in the Centre’s rabbit biocontrol program and look forward to it further develop and progress,” Dr Littlejohn said.

The Centre for Invasive Species Solutions accepts this award with thanks to a strong cooperative endeavour between the Australian Government, NSW Department of Primary Industries, SA Department of Primary Industries and Regions, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Victorian Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, NT Government, CSIRO, MLA, AWI and Rabbit Free Australia.

You can find a summarised version of preliminary results from the national release of RHDV1 K5via our website

Quick facts:

  • The RHDV1 K5 national release occurred in March 2017 at 323 community release sites, in addition to the 18 intensively monitored sites by the research team.
  • The release of RHDV1 K5 across the community sites resulted in 230 additional complete pre and post release site records across Australia.
  • These sites showed an average reduction in rabbit numbers of 34%, one-month post release.
  • Over a two year period, the National Rabbit Biocontrol Monitoring Program has analysed more than 1000 rabbit tissuesamples to create one of the first maps of rabbit disease occurrence across the country, which can be viewed through the RabbitScan website –www.rabbitscan.org.au
  • Analysis shows that RHDV1 K5 appears to works as a biocide; meaning its impact is greatest at a local scale, but it generally does not spread beyond the release site like a self-disseminating biocontrol agent does.
  • In that context, RHDV1 K5 is an important tool in the toolkit needed to allow producers in high production areas of Australia to better respond to rabbit impacts and maximise the outcomes of their integrated conventional control efforts.
  • RHDV1 K5 is available to purchase as a commercial product but is classified as a Schedule 4 restricted chemical product and can only be supplied to persons who are authorised to use the product under the laws of their state or territory.
  • The full outcomes and analysis of the national RHDV1 K5 release will be published in a number of scientific reports in the coming months.




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