UPDATE, MARCH 14: The first rabbit to succumb to a new strain of calicivirus has been found.
The dead rabbit was found near one of the national release sites, on the outskirts of Canberra.
The new virus strain was released at 600 sites across Australia, including Bendigo, from March 3.
The biological control measure was taken to curb the pest’s population, which is held responsible for $200 million damage to crops every year.
Agriculture Victoria has released an image of one rabbit eating pieces of carrot infected with the virus strain.
Members of the public can view live updates of the rabbit disease at https://www.feralscan.org.au/rabbitscan/
Pet rabbits should be vaccinated against calicivirus.
EARLIER: Pet owners are being reminded to vaccinate their bunnies against a deadly virus strain targetting Australia’s wild rabbit population.
A national release of new calicivirus strain RHDV1 K5 began on Wednesday at 150 sites across the state, including Bendigo, in an effort to rein in the introduced species’ environmental damage.
The federal environment department blames rabbits for damage to more than 300 threatened animal and plant species.
The animal also chews through $200 million worth of crops every year, with another $6 million spent on control efforts.
Victoria's acting chief veterinary officer Dr Cameron Bell said the current calicivirus vaccine, administered by vets, was expected to provide good protection to pet rabbits against all strains of the RHDV1 virus, including the K5 strain.
But the Australian Veterinary Association advised of additional ways pet rabbit owners can minimise risk to their rabbits. These include:
- Preventing contact between domestic and wild rabbits
- Avoiding feeding pet rabbits grass in which wild rabbits may have been foraging
- Insect-proofing hutches and keeping pet rabbits indoors
- Washing hands with warm soapy water between handling rabbits
Agriculture Victoria warned pest rabbits were not only a regional issue.
Rabbits can be found at city sports grounds, parklands and along railway tracks.
The release is the first time in two decades a new biological control agent has been used against wild rabbits.
The first variant of the virus wiped out 85 per cent of the pest’s population after its 1995 release.