LONG LASTING: Darling Downs Moreton Rabbit Board chairman Ross Bartley hopes the release of a new virus strain will relieve pressure on the rabbit-proof fence.
LONG LASTING: Darling Downs Moreton Rabbit Board chairman Ross Bartley hopes the release of a new virus strain will relieve pressure on the rabbit-proof fence. Emma Boughen

New virus to fight rabbits

WITH an estimated cost of more than $200million in lost agricultural production every year, rabbits are one of the most troublesome pest species for Australian farmers.

A new biological control is expected to bring some relief for Queensland producers, with Biosecurity Queensland expected to release a new virus next autumn.

Chair of Darling Downs Moreton Rabbit Board Ross Bartley said the new strain of the rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus was suited to the Southern Downs cool climate, with trials taking place around Wallangarra.

“It’s hoped the virus will help lessen the pressure on our supposedly rabbit-free side of the fence,” Mr Bartley said.

“The rabbit numbers are really high on the non-control side of the fence, at one stage 124 were shot in a few hours on a property on that side.

“We’re expecting a good outcome with the release of the virus which as we’re making sure the fence is in a good state for protection.”

DDMRB compliance manager Will Dobbie said landholders were welcomed to nominate to have the virus released on their property next autumn, with applications open until May 30.

He said the virus release was a long time in the making and had already proved effective at the Wallangarra trial site.

“There are very high numbers of rabbits there at the moment, even though it’s quite a long distance from the fence,” Mr Dobbie said.

“I’ve been on the board for about four years and this virus been talked about since I started.

“The current Czech strain which was released about 20 years ago has been found to be less effective in cooler, wetter areas, and though it is still fairly effective as it reoccurs on its own, rabbit populations are building genetic resistance to it.

“It kills about 70% of rabbits at the moment compared to 90% 20 years ago, so it is still a useful tool but Biosecurity Queensland have been trying to find a virus that overcame that resistance.”

With the Korean strain RHDV-K5 soon to be released, Mr Dobbie said historically, viruses were a highly effective form of control.

“Biological controls reach areas other methods don’t and it costs almost nothing, so it’s very popular,” he said.

“It works very well in remote areas where there are large warrens and the cost of destroying them is limited.

“Rabbits are really the only animal to have biological controls available and we’d be in a pickle without them.”


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