Rabbit biocontrol: RHDV1 K5 national release

Page last updated: Wednesday, 22 February 2023 - 4:34pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Why do we need a new biocontrol agent?

Rabbits are Australia’s most destructive agricultural pest animal, costing upwards of $200 million in lost agricultural production annually. Two rabbits can become 200 rabbits in just two years, and in another two years that could be 40,000. It is vital to keep on top of the problem with new interventions and new tools.

A Czech strain of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) was first released in Australia in 1996 and proved extremely effective, knocking down up to 90% of the pest rabbit population in some parts of Australia.

However, in 2009 a native benign calicivirus, called RCV-A1, was identified as a factor for RHDV being less effective in cooler and wetter climates.

The release of RHDV1 K5 comes after more than 5 years of testing through the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre (IACRC) RHD Boost project, with major financial and in kind resources provided by the Australian government, state governments, and industry and non-government organisations. 

After testing 38 variants of RHDV, this project noted that RHDV1 K5 should work better in the cool-wet regions of Australia where the current variant has not been so successful.

Animal welfare considerations

  • Given the short disease time (between 24 and 72 hours after infection) and the sudden death from rapid organ failure, RHDV1 K5 is one of the most humane control methods for rabbits (even more so than the Czech strain).

  • RHDV1 will only infect the European rabbit and will not harm humans, other pets or native species.

  • Approval to use RHDV1 K5 included a stringent approval process by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority, including consideration of all information available on potential impacts to native animals.

  • Even predatory animals that eat rabbits that have died from RHDV1 K5 do not develop an infection.