Caring for the environment  |  21 May 2019

The days are numbered for some rabbits living in Christchurch’s residential red zone.

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) is going to release calici virus K5 in some areas of the red zone to help keep rabbit numbers down.

“A survey in the spring by our bio-security experts found that the rabbit population did not require pest control, but a recent second survey identified an increase that requires pest control measures,” says Matt Bradley, Manager Land and Property for LINZ in Christchurch.

A rabbit in the grass.

Pest control work will target rabbits in the red zone.

Rabbit populations are measured from level 1 to 5 on the McLean’s Scale and rabbit numbers in Heathcote, Brooklands, Horseshoe Lake, Bexley and Avondale have reached level 4, which requires pest control measures, according to the Canterbury Regional Pest Control Strategy.

Mr Bradley says independent bio-diversity experts Boffa Miskell suggested a variety of control measures and the introduction of the K5 virus was the recommended option as it only affected the European rabbit.

"Other animals are not affected by this virus," says Mr Bradley.

Vaccinations that confer good protection against the rabbit calici virus are available and rabbit owners should talk to their veterinarian to check if their rabbit has current and appropriate vaccination protection.  The virus will not be released until late June to give owners sufficient time to ensure their rabbits are vaccinated appropriately.

Mr Bradley emphasised that LINZ carefully considered all the available options before it decided to follow the advice of its bio-diversity experts.

“It is also important to note that the K5 strain has been in use for a while by other local and regional authorities in New Zealand.”

Mr Bradley says as responsible neighbour to adjacent green zone properties, LINZ wants to make sure it has communicated effectively with the public before the release of the virus in about four weeks’ time.

“We consulted with the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) before making the decision to release the virus. They have made sure veterinary clinics in Christchurch are aware so they can remind all owners of pet rabbits to take the appropriate steps to ensure their animals are vaccinated appropriately.”

NZVA Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Helen Beattie says some pet rabbits in the area will have some immunity from previous vaccinations but others will not have any protection.

“Rabbits vaccinated against previously released strains of the calicivirus are likely to have some immunity but owners should be aware these animals require a booster vaccination every 12 months to ensure they maintain the appropriate levels of immunity. Rabbits that have not been vaccinated will not be protected and owners should have these animals vaccinated as soon as possible,” she says.

Dr Beattie says it is important for people to act quickly as a vaccination can take up to 21 days to become effective, which means some pet rabbits could be vulnerable if not vaccinated immediately.

“Any rabbit owner in the area who is not sure if their pet’s vaccination schedule is up to date should see their veterinarian as soon as possible to get  the right advice on how to best protect their pet,” she says.
Veterinarians and members of the public can find further information on the NZVA website. You can find the full survey on rabbits in the Residential Red Zone on the Land Information New Zealand website.