RSPCA statement on the release of RHDV1K5

The RSPCA is urging rabbit owners to make sure their pets are vaccinated ahead of the planned release of RHDV1K5 - a new variant of the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus – next month.

The RHDV1K5 strain of calicivirus, which originates in Korea, is being released to manage the growing wild rabbit population and is fatal to rabbits without immunity.

The RSPCA has a number of concerns regarding the release of RHDV1K5 and would prefer to see it delayed until the full efficacy of the available vaccine can be determined and the impact of the RHDV2 can be better understood.

While the currently available Cylap vaccine has shown some protection against RHDV1K5 in small pilot trials, the RSPCA believes further trials must be undertaken to provide real certainty regarding its effectiveness.

The RSPCA also believes there is an urgent need for the development of a trivalent vaccine to safeguard against the three main RHDV strains which pose a risk to domestic rabbits.

Additionally, since the presence of the (previously unreleased) RHDV2 strain was confirmed in a wild rabbit in Canberra in 2015, there have been many reports of vaccinated rabbits dying from the disease.

While RHDV2 is still in circulation and killing wild and domestic rabbits, it will be difficult to evaluate the true impact of K5’s release.

The RSPCA believes that, where the need to control wild animal populations has been proven, methods used should be humane, targeted and effective.

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The RSPCA is Australia’s leading animal welfare organisation and one of Australia’s most trusted charities. The RSPCA works to prevent cruelty to animals by actively promoting their care and protection.