Happy retirement to Greg Mutze – one of Australia’s leading pest ecology researchers

Greg Mutze joined the South Australian Vertebrate Pest Control Authority in 1979.

He has recently retired as Senior Biosecurity Research Officer in PIRSA Biosecurity SA after 38.5 years in research and management of agricultural and environmental pest animals.

Greg and a 1m deep rabbit burrow demonstrating the need for deep warren ripping; Flinders Ranges (SA), 2010. (Photo: Nina Schwensow)

Originally employed as a regional advisor, a mouse plague saw him quickly transferred into mouse research. Early work included plague prediction, estimating populations and measuring damage in cereal crops. He also conducted preliminary baiting trials to control mice in crops. When in 1993, south-eastern Australia was confronted with a huge mouse plague, Greg’s recommendation to use strychnine was adopted. This decision resulted in an immediate saving of $20 million in SA alone. Later, Greg was instrumental in developing zinc phosphide as the broad acre rodenticide of choice, no doubt saving Australian farmers many hundreds of millions of dollars more. Greg is deservedly recognised as a leading mouse expert in Australia.

In those earlier years, mice were not always in plague proportions and Greg had to carry out other duties. One of these was helping run 1080 baiting programs along the Wild Dog Fence in northern SA and this gave him an opportunity to train for his football career by jogging for km after km along the fence while his colleague sat comfortably in a vehicle driving along the fence track.

The gap in mouse plague years also allowed Greg to start working on rabbits and that is where his efforts have primarily been over the last 20 years or so.  He also was involved very actively in the initial releases of the Spanish rabbit flea and the original release of RHDV as a second biocontrol for rabbits.  He has maintained long-term monitoring sites looking at rabbit impacts, total grazing pressure and feral predators in the Flinders Ranges and on the Coorong in SA.

What turned out to be a blessing for SA and pest animal research was that Greg was hired about the same time as Pete Bird, Ron Sinclair and Mark Williams joining Brian Cooke and Bob Henzell to forming a work group that most of them stayed together for over 30 years.  The combined corporate and pest animal knowledge of that team was huge and a great asset.

Over the next 25 years Greg promoted and monitored the effectiveness of conventional rabbit control, was involved in the release of the Spanish rabbit flea, developed rabbit damage assessment tools and monitored the epidemiology and benefits of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) as a rabbit biocontrol.  Greg is now internationally recognised as a world leader in rabbit control and particularly in the understanding of RHDV.

Greg’s skills at remembering previous research, questioning and analysing existing and new data and presenting new material have been a critical contribution to the Biosecurity SA team, shown well in the recent collaborative paper showing that Turretfield rabbits that survive myxo have a 10% poorer survival from a subsequent RHDV infection.

He was an integral part of a long-standing pest animal team in the South Australian government and later was a major contributor to the Invasive Animals CRC’s rabbit control program. His experience, research expertise and insight will be greatly missed.

We wish Greg all the best in retirement and trust that many good fish find his hooks.

(Featured image: Greg digging out a radio-collared rabbit killed by RHD; Flinders Ranges (SA), 2000. (Photo: Scott Jennings))