War on rabbits goes awry Down Under
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 1996:
officials admitted November 27 that the premature
release of calicivirus into the outback
of New South Wales and South Australia
state in October was an accident.
Apparently carried to the mainland
by insects after deployment at a test site on
Wardong Island, the disease soon killed
850,000 rabbits––22 an acre––in Flinders
Ranges National Park alone. Ranger David
Peacock said that was counting only rabbits
who died in the open; experts predicted
most afflicted rabbits would die underground.
Farmers eager to get rid of rabbits
were reportedly paying $75 apiece for
infected rabbits to release on their property.
Australia has been trying to eradicate
rabbits for more than a century.
Hunting enthusiast Thomas Austin, of
Victoria, released the first dozen in 1859,
hoping they would breed abundant targets.
By 1940, nearly 600 million rabbits had
overrun the continent, outcompeting native
wildlife. Circa 1955, the government
imported myxomatosis, a Brazilian virus
fatal to rabbits, and knocked the rabbit population
down to about 100 million within
two years, but the survivors shared immunity
with their fast-multiplying offspring, and
have reportedly rebuilt their population to
Calicivirus, already used against
rabbits in China and parts of Europe, was
under study as a potential myxomatosis
replacement, over opposition from the
Royal SPCA and Animal Liberation. It kills
rabbits by causing internal hemorrhaging.
Death typically takes 24 to 40 hours.
Calicivirus purportedly does not affect
humans or other animal species.