Every year, Forest & Bird hosts a two-week Bird of the Year competition, giving Kiwis the chance to rank their favorite birds among New Zealand’s 200 species in an effort to raise awareness of the conservation.
The bird competitions in New Zealand are a political affair with the campaign being conducted using the same method as the country’s electoral system. As such, the event has a sordid history of electoral fraud, database breaches, and even accusations of Russian interference. Last year a hacker gave away a small spotted kiwi 1,500 false votes, disqualifying him from the competition!
While this year’s winner was immune to any nefarious tactics, some avifauna enthusiasts winked when the very first non-avian competitor returned home with the prize.
A Pekapeka-Tou-Roa among the birds
One of the country’s two native land mammals, the pekapeka-tou-roa, or long-tailed bat, was included in the list of competitors to raise awareness of critically endangered species. Yet it was 7,031 online votes that helped him become the cream of the herd.
The victory was a shutout with last year’s winner and second place recipient kakapo receiving 4,072 of 56,733 votes in total.
Part of the long-tailed bat’s success in competition may come from the sheer excitement of seeing the fluffy, inch-long creature, as humans rarely see them flying around the forest at 35 miles per hour. .
The long-tailed bat beat the other favorites, the kākāpō, titipounamu, kea, and toroa to be the first mammal to win Bird of the Year. pic.twitter.com/Fxtb9UARId
– Morning report (@NZMorningReport) October 31, 2021
“Kiwis love their native bat,” said Laura Keown, spokesperson for the bird of the year. “A vote for bats is also a vote for predator control, habitat restoration and climate action to protect our bats and their feathered neighbors! “
Long-tailed bat battle extinction
New Zealand’s two relatively unknown bat species face many of the same threats as the more popular creatures, including the winner of the 2009 competition, the kiwi. Climate change, habitat destruction, cats and rats all put bats at risk as their populations decline at a rate of 5% each year.
Preserving habitat is an essential step in helping the species survive, as once bats lose their habitat, they are unlikely to return.
Not everyone approves of the bat and the switch
The outreach efforts have certainly been successful. Still, not all were delighted with their victory, with some social media warriors taking to the internet to complain about what they believed was a stolen election.
In this battle for avian democracy, we tend to lean on the views of optimistic Twitter users, who reveled in seeing an underdog thrive, along with the Twitter user. Bryan C. Clark noticing, “If pekapeka tou roa can win the bird of the year even though it is not a bird, then you can ask your crush, anything is possible.”
By Meghan Yani, contributor for Ripleys.com
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