The environmental journalism Sydney-(out)sider
In the ABC News story “Rabbit virus kits puts power back into hands of farmers,” journalist Prue Adams writes about kits that farmers and land managers can to get infect feral rabbits with a new strain of calicivirus called RHDV-K5, which was developed by the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre RHD Boost project. According to the article, the virus will kill off rabbits in areas where the original calicivirus, which was released in 1996, could not. Farm managers will take several steps to help determine if K5 is successful.
Adams takes a pro-virus, pro-farmer stance on the issue, writing that, “researchers expect this newest biological control will reduce the overall rabbit population by about 20 per cent,” and mentioning the destructive nature of feral rabbits. This would be fine, as writing as completely unbiased news article is almost impossible, if it weren’t for lack of sources and other points of view. The only interview is with Dr. Tarnya Cox, of the NSW Department of Primary Industries–the very same department that heads that RHD Boost project. Dr. Cox touched on the issue of animal welfare, but no animal welfare groups were consulted. Farmers will play a huge role in helping the Research Centre gather information about the virus, yet there were no quotes from farmers. During our class discussion someone asked how much the kits would cost, and I realized that this is good question and the article doesn’t mention it, perhaps on purpose. The story does seem to be highly promotional.
The story is also dreadfully vague in some places. Adams mentions a naturally occurring strain of calicivirus called RHDV2 that is thought to have come to Australia from Europe and is also killing rabbits. She writes that, “it is not known how the mystery appearance of this virus will impact the intentional release of RHD-K5 next week,” and then abandons that topic altogether. Adams should discuss why the virus might be a concern.
While the article thoroughly explains the process of allocating the kits and spreading the new virus, it could go into more depth for a variety of subjects that were barely mentioned.