SCOOBY AND BASIL have very important jobs at Fernlea and from the minute they wake up they are ‘on duty’.
First up is guard duty, and Basil is particularly good at this job – he lies on the driveway facing the direction of the entrance to the property, alerting us as soon as he hears someone arriving. Then they have the chickens to watch over, cows to round up and on raining days a duty to keep warm under blankets.
But above all and their most important duty is hunting for possums. Possums were introduced into New Zealand by the early settlers and because they have no natural enemies their population has exploded.
It is estimated that there are 10 million possums in Northland (the part of the country Fernlea is located), which is about 72 possums per person. The average adult possum weighs 2-3 kilogrammes, and lives for about seven to nine years, often breeding twice every year.
Northland possums eat nearly three tonnes of leaves, twigs and berries every night, stripping native forests of fruit, flowers and leaves which are vital food sources for birds. They also eat the eggs and chicks of native birds.
I don’t know how, but Scooby and Basil have learnt that the chickens, ducks, and cows are to be protected and possums are the number one enemy.
Every weekend they decide when it is time to hunt for possums and off they go. They don’t stick to Fernlea’s perimeter either, their range is extensive and over several properties. When they find a possum they will start barking incessantly, and then at some point Basil will come back to get the Hobbit. He acts quite edgy, wagging his tail and bouncing up and down, trying to communicate with the Hobbit and if he could talk he would be saying, “get your gun, we have found a possum and we need your help.” The Hobbit will eventually get his gun and follow Basil, often across paddocks, through gorse and into the bush to where Scooby has the possum cornered.
Over the past seven years we estimate that Scooby and Basil have hunted and with the help of the Hobbit dispatched (humanely) well over 200 possums. Not bad considering that they are not much bigger than the possums and their hunting skills are self taught.
They are both great companions and loyal, and give the Hobbit and I much enjoyment and we are very proud to think that in a small way they are contributing to New Zealand’s aspirational goal of making the country predator free by 2050. To read more about this goal CLICK HERE.