CANBERRA, April 1 (Xinhua) -- Researchers in Australia are hailing the early success of the introduction of a Korean strain of the rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHDV-K5), a virus designed to kill feral rabbits which are running rampant throughout the nation.
Brought to Australia with European settlers in the late 18th century, rabbits grew out of control throughout the 19th century and still pose a problem to many communities today; not only do they eat crops, they also don't have a natural predator in the local ecosystem.
After conducting tests at 600 sites across the nation, researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) said that of 80 samples of dead rabbits since the disease's release, 53 percent of those samples tested positive for the RHDV-K5.
Dr Tarnya Cox from the CSIRO said on Saturday while it was till "very, very early days", the results of the trials were promising, giving hope that researchers may be able to bring the wild population under control.
"It is successful in that we are having rabbits die from K5," she said.
"(But) when there are rabbits dying off site, then we can say it has been truly successful."
It's expected that the trials will be deemed "truly successful" when rabbits begin to die from the disease outside of the test zones. According to the CSIRO, this will mean the disease is being transmitted to live rabbits through flies which have been in contact with affected carcasses.
Despite the step forward in the hunt for a solution to Australia's wild rabbit problem, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) was hesitant to back the release of the virus considering many pet rabbits aren't vaccinated for the disease.
RSPCA chief scientist Bidda Jones said "it was really important that anyone with a pet rabbit or farmed rabbits vaccinates all their rabbits" before the disease is released further into the wild.