Pet rabbit owners around the Taupo region are being urged to vaccinate their bunnies now with the release of the RHDV1 K5 virus to tackle wild pests due to occur in mid-April.
The Waikato Regional Council said K5 was a virus that could reduce the wild rabbit population in the region's hotspots. It's a variant of a virus that's already present in New Zealand and only affects the European rabbit.
Contractors will be pre-feeding using carrots in strategic locations in Taupo, Kuratau and Kinloch as well as Pauanui, Whangamata, Thames, Matarangi, Hamilton, and Cambridge.
Waikato Regional Council biosecurity pest animals team leader Brett Bailey said this would get the rabbits used to eating the carrots before the virus was put in.
"We've selected sites where our communities and local councils have told us rabbits are a particular problem, and where the virus will have maximum impact on rabbit populations," he said.
Bailey reminded landowners that the virus shouldn't replace other control methods.
"Biological control uses a living organism to control another, and it's a method that has been used for years very successfully across New Zealand to safely control different pests. But its effect isn't immediate, so secondary control plans should be put in place over winter to take advantage of the lower rabbit numbers at these locations."
He said a small number of rabbit owners had contacted the council concerned about their pets.
"This is not a new virus. It's been in New Zealand more than 20 years and there is a well-tested vaccine which is available from most veterinarians.
"If they haven't already, we'd suggest pet rabbit owners ensure vaccinations are up-to-date," he said.
The virus is specific to rabbits so humans and other animals won't be affected if they accidentally come into contact with carrots treated with the virus or the carcasses of rabbits killed by the virus.
The virus is spread by rabbit-to-rabbit contact, and also by flies. The full impact of the virus could take six weeks or more for its full impact to be visible.
Bailey said it was important rabbit carcasses were left in place so the virus could spread naturally. Moving carcasses can dilute the strength of the virus and result in rabbits being immune to it.
Approval to import and release the virus was given in late February. The new strain of the virus has already been released in others parts of New Zealand, including Otago and Canterbury.