More Research Required To Reach RCD Management Decisions

  • Simon Upton

The Minister for Biosecurity, Hon. Simon Upton, has announced that with the rabbit calicivirus disease (RCD) now present in New Zealand and its eradication no longer possible, the Government has called for three urgent reports for next Monday's Cabinet meeting on how its future management is to be handled.

"We have asked the Ministry of Agriculture to report on the merits of a managed release of the virus as against observing the unmanaged spread which is now occurring.

"We have asked the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology to submit information on what research needs to be done to support management options.

"We have asked the Department of Conservation to report on how its contingency plan to handle the problem of predator switch from rabbits to endangered native wildlife is to be implemented, noting that it has already begun monitoring the situation."

Mr Upton said there was an urgent need to gather more information about the virus now circulating in New Zealand. Areas identified for immediate research include characterising the virus and testing its virulence so that its effectiveness can be determined.

As the spring advances it will also be necessary to monitor insects active in the vicinity of the virus to ascertain whether there are naturally occurring vectors for transmission.

MAF would continue to manage monitoring and surveillance until a research programme is underway.

Mr Upton said the Department of Conservation had also started monitoring the location of high priority protected species for evidence of increased predator activity.

Mr Upton said that while no decision had yet been made on whether further action should be taken to exploit the use of RCD as a rabbit control tool in a managed programme, ``I will be meeting with parties interested in the use of RCD as a control tool on Wednesday."

Mr Upton said MAF had advised that releases of rabbit calicivirus disease (RCD) virus have been made by landholders in the most rabbit prone areas of the South Island and possibly in the North Island, and that it is no longer feasible to eradicate the virus from New Zealand.

Information to date indicated the virus had been widely used as a biocide (i.e. spread to rabbits through baits or injections) and that only minor ``rabbit-to-rabbit'' spread appeared to be occurring in many areas.

The Cabinet agreed that MAF should now scale down its emergency response procedures to a managed regime. This will mean the closure of both the local and national Outbreak Response Centres. Monitoring and surveillance in the field will continue, as outlined above.

MAF's Enforcement Unit, supported by the Police, will also continue to give priority to investigating offences associated with the illegal importation of the virus.