'Bandit' possum tracked to lair on Otago Peninsula

An infamous possum dubbed Te Rauone bandit that evaded capture on Otago Peninsula for years has finally met its match — a hound by the name of Sophie.

The 5-year-old Collie-cross-German shorthaired pointer has been trained in the art of possum hunting since she was 8 weeks old.

Over her career she had located nearly 1000 possums and had been recruited by the Otago Peninsula Biodiversity Group to aid them in their mission to eradicate possums on the peninsula.

Summit Contracting Ltd managing director and owner and Sophie’s handler, Joe Hughes, said detection dogs such as her were used for finding live possums denned-up in the ground during the day.

Sophie would zero-in on the den and sniff out the possums, until Mr Hughes arrived with his firearm to dispatch them.

"Certainly for possums [Sophie’s] one of our better dogs for that.

"She’s not interested in cats or anything like that, just possums," he said.

Yesterday, Sophie located two possums in a den at a property on Otago Peninsula.

One of them had been shot while the other remained at large.

Mr Hughes said Sophie had also recently sniffed out a possum dubbed Te Rauone bandit, the last of a particular elusive handful of possums.

She tracked the bandit to its hideout above a waterfall near Taiaroa where it was shot by a hunting team, he said.

Otago Peninsula Biodiversity Group community engagement team leader Marcia Dale said Sophie had been brought in specifically to address their most elusive possums.

Summit Contracting Ltd managing director and owner Joe Hughes and his possum-hunting hound Sophie...
Summit Contracting Ltd managing director and owner Joe Hughes and his possum-hunting hound Sophie at work at a property on the Otago Peninsula. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Over the past 13 years, the organisation operated with the sole purpose of "full eradication" of possums on the peninsula, removing nearly 24,000 possums to date with the project concluding in June next year.

At the start of the year, the number of Te Rauone possums had been reduced to a handful, Ms Dale said.

Since then they had caught 73, with Sophie believed to have caught the last.

"We think we’ve got the last one, touch wood.

"She was almost definitely the bandit because she was almost blind, scarred up and was a female.

"This particular possum, she was really hard to track down," she said.

"So many hours have gone into getting that particular possum so that’s incredible to have that one caught."

Nearly 10,000ha encompassed the peninsula, and over the past three days, Sophia had canvassed about 80ha, Ms Dale said.

tim.scott@odt.co.nz , PIJF cadet reporter