Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats

Should the 40-year-old practice of releasing virulent myxoma virus to control rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) be continued?

D. Berman A E , P. J. Kerr B , R. Stagg B C , B. H. van Leeuwen B C and T. Gonzalez D
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Robert Wicks Pest Animal Research Centre, Natural Resources and Mines, 203 Tor Sreet, Toowoomba, Qld 4350, Australia.

B Pest Animal Control Cooperative Research Centre, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, GPO Box 284, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

C School of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Faculty of Science, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.

D School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email: david.berman@nrm.qld.gov.au

Wildlife Research 33(7) 549-556 https://doi.org/10.1071/WR05004
Submitted: 11 January 2005  Accepted: 11 August 2006   Published: 15 November 2006


Release of virulent myxoma virus has been a key component of rabbit-control operations in Queensland, Australia, since the 1960s but its use rests on anecdotal reports. During a routine operation to release virulent myxoma virus we found no evidence to support the continued regular use of the technique in south-west Queensland. Radio-tagged rabbits inoculated with virulent myxoma virus contracted the disease but failed to pass enough virus to other rabbits to spread the disease. Rabbits with clinical signs of myxomatosis that were shot were infected with field strain derived from the original laboratory strain released in 1950 rather than the virulent strain that has been released annually. There was no change in rabbit survival or abundance caused by the release. Nevertheless, the release of virulent virus may be useful against isolated pockets of rabbits mainly because field strains are less likely to be present. Such pockets are more common now that rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus is established in Queensland.


We thank the many coworkers and volunteers that assisted in all aspects of this project, especially Michael Brennan, and Joe Scanlan who provided editorial comments. We are also indebted to Geoff and Wendy Murrell and Stanbroke Pastoral Co. for access to the property. Liz Houston from the Queensland Department of Primary Industries analysed the blood. John Robertshaw, Bill Brassington, Kevin Strong, Peter Hodgson, John Conroy, Kirby Doak, Melissa Underwood and Bob Finlay are thanked for their valuable discussion and assistance.


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