A new strain of the rabbit killing calicivirus virus will be released in the Bay of Plenty starting next week.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council will release the disease RHDV1 K5 as part of a nationwide initiative to combat wild rabbits.
The regional council has been working with land owners to find the most effective locations to release the virus and has identified four sites in Opotiki, Manawahe, Rotoehu and Southern Kaingaroa.
Wild rabbits are pests that have a significant impact on the natural environment and agricultural industry. They can cause erosion, and destroy native vegetation and food sources.
In large numbers they also impact crop production and young forestry plantings.
Regional council biosecurity manager Greg Corbett said the release was part of its ongoing work to help landowners with controlling wild rabbit populations. It believed the virus could greatly reduce numbers in the region's hotspots.
"Research suggests that April is the optimal time for the release to improve effectiveness of the virus. The release has also been timed to coincide with other regional council's releases in a joint effort to combat wild rabbits," Corbett said.
Although the number of sites in the Bay of Plenty paled in comparison to other regions such as Otago who have 110 sites, Corbett said the release was important to keep wild rabbit populations down.
"Wild rabbits have the potential to do some real damage to not only farms and crops, but our native biodiversity too. The release of the virus is another method we're employing to keep rabbit numbers down to help farmers, the local economy and our native vegetation."
RHDV1 K5 is a new strain of an existing virus that is already widespread in New Zealand. This new strand was selected for its ability to overcome resistance issues present in our wild populations.
The virus is not harmful to humans or other animal species.
A vaccine (Cylap) has been available to pet rabbit owners for many years to protect them against RHDV1 and is also effective against the new K5 strain. Owners are advised to talk to their local veterinarians to ensure their rabbits are vaccinated.
For answers to frequently asked questions, go to the Ministry for Primary Industries page here.