Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) is a highly contagious disease caused by a calicivirus that affects rabbits. Their spread may have been enhanced through the emergence of strong crossbreeds. The European rabbit originally occupied the Iberian Peninsula and northwestern Africa, but it was widely introduced throughout western Europe 2,000 years ago. It causes severe damage to the natural environment and to agriculture. Volunteers are being asked to scan their landscape and mark areas where they have seen rabbits on an online map. After years of battling this pest, Australia is now facing a fresh increase in rabbit numbers. RHD causes blood clots to develop in the rabbit's lungs, heart and kidneys. Also, two years ago Dr Tanja Strive from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) discovered that Australian rabbits carry a native calicivirus that may confer some immunity to the disease. The adult coats are typically gray-brown, but range from sandy color to black or dark gray. "The combination of the [reduced efficacy of the] myxomatosis virus and the absence of cats meant that the rabbit population started to expand after 2000," says University of Tasmania researcher Lucieer. The story goes that a land… Image Credit: David Peacock From the spring issue of The Wildlife Professional. Rabbits have a well-documented history for causing severe environmental damage. Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development's Agriculture and Food division is committed to growing and protecting WA's agriculture and food sector. The majority of Australian rabbits are descended from 24 wild rabbits released near Geelong in 1859. Male (bucks) European rabbits weigh more and have broader heads than females (does), but the overall appearance of both sexes is v… Within 50 years rabbits had spread across almost the entire continent, with devastating implications for Australia’s indigenous flora and fauna. Unfortunately, they would soon spread across the country. The rabbits started to migrate across Australia at a rate of 80 miles a year. Gardeners and growers everywhere, watch your lettuce patches! Thomas Austin, a wealthy settler who lived in Victoria, Australia, had 13 European wild rabbits sent to him from across the world, which he … Pest and Disease Information Service (PaDIS). "We don't have a reasonable rabbit map in Australia," says Professor Tony Peacock, chief executive officer of the Invasive Animals Co-operative Research Centre (IACRC). If RHDV2 is highly virulent it could potentially benefit rabbit biocontrol efforts within Australia 3 . Feral rabbit control is complicated because of welfare and harvesting issues, and because both native and introduced predators feed on feral rabbits in many parts of Australia. Their ideal habitat consists of short grasslands with secure refuge (such as burrows, boulders, hedgerows, scrub, and woodland) near feeding areas. European rabbits were introduced to Australia in the 18th century with the First Fleet and eventually became widespread. "Rather than focusing on the one species we should research the whole ecosystem," says Lucieer. By clicking 'Send to a friend' you agree ABC Online is not responsible for the content contained in your email message. Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review. This is partly because rabbits are developing genetic resistance to the virus, and the virus itself has changed and is not as virulent as the original strain. Page last updated: Monday, 17 October 2016 - 1:18pm. It has since spread across Europe, the United States, Cuba and Uruguay. The clots block blood vessels and death from heart and respiratory failure quickly ensues. In terms of specific approaches going forward, we need to practice 'integrated rabbit management' and use several different methods, says CSIRO researcher Strive. In 1950 a virus that causes a mild illness called myxomytosis in Brazilian rabbits was found to be lethal in European rabbits. To prevent the rabbits' westward spread, the WA government finished building three rabbit-proof fences across the state in 1907. The European rabbit became widespread in North America and Australia, for example, where the wild rabbit has become a troublesome pest to farmers and conservationists. The European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) or coney is a species of rabbit native to southwestern Europe (including Portugal, Spain and western France) and to northwest Africa (including Morocco and Algeria). 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