Pet owners warned to vaccinate against rabbit-killer virus

Indie Ladan’s lop ear rabbit Heffie may not purr or wag his tail when she comes home but he still manages to show plenty of affection. “He’ll just jump onto the couch and nudge your hand when he wants a pat. Sometimes he’ll lick your fingers – that means he wants food.” Heffie is Ladan’s third pet rabbit, an animal the busy Brunswick designer prizes for its affection and relatively low maintenance needs.

Those needs will increase from March 1, however, when a new strain of the calicivirus – rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) K5 – is released in a nationally co-ordinated effort to control Australia’s wild rabbit population.

European rabbits landed in Australia with the First Fleet in 1788. Since then they have multiplied, as the saying goes, and are estimated to cost the nation more than $200 million-a-year in lost agricultural production – not to mention the damage to native species growth, regeneration and biodiversity.

The various state primary industry departments hope the new K5 virus strain, a variant of the existing RHDV1 virus released into the environment in 1996, will be more effective as a wild rabbit killer, particularly in cooler climates and among young rabbits, known as kittens.

The virus will be released at more than 150 sites in Victoria…

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