New Zealand Mulls over Deadly Virus to Fight ‘Rabbit Plague’

Fri Apr 07 2023
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NEW ZEALAND: Easter in New Zealand is typically a period when rabbits are killed. However, the yearly slaughter was outlawed this year, but one area plans to use a deadly virus to fight the rodent boom.


According to an Otago Regional Council (ORC) spokesperson, the rabbit boom has turned into “plague” proportions in some areas of the South Island. The Great Easter Rabbit Hunt, an annual event in New Zealand, pits hunters against one another to see who can kill the rabbits. Twelve thousand died in 2022. 


Due to fire dangers and health and safety issues, the hunt was postponed this year; meanwhile, the number of rabbits in the area has increased. Wild rabbits are considered a severe pest in New Zealand, particularly in rural areas and native landscapes, significantly impacting agriculture. 


According to a statement from the council, “densities of up to 16 rabbits per square kilometre have been reported in some spots during ORC night-count surveillance. Rabbits impact crops and pasture because just ten rabbits can eat as much as one sheep needs to eat.”


The Ministry of Primary Industry estimates that rabbits cost New Zealand $50 million (£25 million) in lost productivity yearly and an additional $25 million (NZ$50 million) on direct pest control.


The Otago Council seeks permission from the government to transmit the virus that causes rabbit haemorrhagic disease to reduce the rabbit population (RHDV). 


In 1997, a viral strain was first illegally imported and brought to New Zealand, which devastated the rabbit population. Early in 2018, a second Korean strain was released after being lawfully imported. Rabbits, however, have grown more resistant over time.


Local council members are considering whether it is possible to take RHDV off the “unwanted organism list” for biosecurity, which might open the door for its return.


The council’s manager for environmental implementation, Libby Caldwell, called the rabbit issue “a nasty problem.” 


The council has pushed for the virus’s approval, developed a plan to eradicate rabbits, hired two people to oversee eradication efforts, and designated rabbits as the month’s “pest of the month.”

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