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Greater Sydney Local Land Services targets wild rabbits

People with pet rabbits are encouraged to vaccinate their animals before the planned release of calicivirus between late March and early April which aims to reduce populations of wild rabbits in the Sydney North region.

Calicivirus, also known as Rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV), is used to control wild rabbits which are declared pest animal in NSW as they can cause major agricultural and environmental damage.

According to Steve Parker, Greater Sydney Local Land Services (GSLLS) team leader for invasive species, the release of calicivirus is part of an integrated approach to the management of pest rabbits. The program is supported by the Urban Feral Animal Action Group (UFAAG), which is made up of major land owners in Northern Sydney.

“It’s important that people who own pet rabbits vaccinate for calicivirus now to ensure that if their domestic rabbit comes in contact with the virus, which is mainly spread by contact between other rabbits and insects, they are immune,” Mr Parker said.

“It is much more effective if landholders undertake control work like baiting, removing harbour and destroying burrows before and after the programmed calicivirus release to maximise its success.

“Owners of pet rabbits should consult with their vet and maintain a vaccination program to protect their rabbits,” Mr Parker said.

Rabbit control programs have been running for a number of years, including the release of RHDV annually. Recent blood samples sent for RHDV testing have come back mainly negative for antibodies, meaning that the rabbit population should now again be susceptible to the virus.

“Calicivirus can be utilised as a very effective control tool where there are susceptible populations of wild rabbits. In cases where there are wild rabbits around urban areas, traditional control using poisons, fumigants or shooting are restricted due to increased risks,” said Mr Parker.

Releases are timed to obtain the most benefit when there is the highest likelihood of effectiveness. In the Greater Sydney Local Land Services region the most favourable time for calicivirus to be released is autumn.