RHDV2 now confirmed in European brown hares

The Invasive Animals CRC national rabbit biocontrol monitoring program has confirmed through laboratory testing that Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 (RHDV2) was present in three recently deceased European brown hares in Australia – one in Victoria and two in South Australia.

RHDV2 is specific to Lagomorph species, which include rabbits and hares. Australia only has two Lagomorph species – the European rabbit and the European brown hare. In Australia, RHDV2 has now been confirmed in these two invasive Lagomorph species, and has not been found to infect or kill any native or other introduced species. In Europe, RHDV2 has infected European rabbits, Cape hares and Italian hares, and similarly has not infected or killed any other native or introduced species.

“It is important to recognise there are different strains of the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus. RHDV1 is currently used in Australia as a biocontrol agent and is totally rabbit specific. A new strain of RHDV1 (the Korean K5 strain) is currently being proposed for national release in 2017,” said Andreas Glanznig, CEO of the Invasive Animals CRC.

European brown hares (Lepus europaeus) are considered a threat to Australia’s environment and our multi-billion dollar agricultural industry. They were introduced to mainland Australia in the 1860s for hunting purposes and have since established populations throughout South-eastern Australia including Queensland, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and South Australia.

“It is unknown how RHDV2 arrived into Australia, after it was first discovered in a European rabbit in the ACT more than a year ago” explained Mr Glanznig.

“European brown hares are regarded as a pest in Australia according to a government risk assessment. Like rabbits, they can cause damage to trees by gnawing bark and can feed on agricultural crops. They also threaten many native plant species by browsing on foliage and seeds,” said Mr Glanznig.

The Invasive Animals CRC along with its partners, are assisting authorities in monitoring the movement of the disease within Australia. You can find out more about our rabbit biocontrol and invasive animal research at PestSmart Connect – www.pestsmart.org.au

Image: Wayne Hillier