Rabbits were first introduced to NZ in the 1830s for food and sport.
Within a few years the rabbits had established and quickly became a pest. The impact of rabbits on agriculture in the South Island was devastating, with grass available for livestock drastically reduced. It is reported that at least one farm had to cut their stock numbers by 90% due to lack of grass. It has been estimated that pest rabbits cost New Zealand $25 million in direct pest control a year and over $50 million in lost production.
That doesn't take into account the vast damage to the environment due to pest rabbits. Some areas have not recovered and may never recover from the intensive grazing.
The New Zealand Rabbit Coordination Group is a collective with representatives from MPI, Department of Conservation, Federated Farmers, regional and district councils and Land Information NZ.
They have looked at various options and decided that the best control method is to release RHDV1 K5 which is a trade name for a new strain of the current RHDV1 virus, which many rabbits became immune to. RHDV1-K5 will be released in Canterbury, Otago and Malborough in March and April 2018. In time it will spread to other areas.
RHDV1 K5 targets European rabbits so pet and farmed rabbits will need to be vaccinated against it to protect them if they pick up the virus. If you have pet or farmed rabbits you should talk to your veterinarian.
NZVA have some recommendations regarding biosecurity measures rabbit owners can take here.