'Desperate for a shag': fraudsters target New Zealand's bird of the year poll
Wildlife 'Desperate for a shag': fraudsters target New Zealand's bird of the year poll
Organisers said the flood of votes traced back to Australia was âpotentially someoneâs idea of a jokeâ
New Zealandâs annual Bird of the Year competition has been hit by foreign interference after 300 fraudulent votes, traced to Australia, were all cast in favour of the shag .
The humorously-named seabird â" also known as the kawau in New Zealand and as the black cormorant in Australia â" received a flood of votes on Wednesday night that organisers said was âpotentially someoneâs idea of a jokeâ.
The popular poll, now in its 14th year, is run by Forest & Bird New Zealand to raise awareness of the countryâs rare and endangered birds, and attracts celebrity endorsements, heated debate and tens of thousands of votes from around the world every year.
This year, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has backed the black petrel, which she called âthe bogan of the birdsâ, and Stephen Fry has endorsed the kÄkÄpÅ.
For the first time in the competitionâs history, a data scientist has been hired to protect the integrity of the poll, after a series of ugly voting scandals in recent years.
In 2017, ecologist Yvan Richard personally foiled one Christchurch resident who used a random email address generator to vote 112 times for the white-faced heron.
In 2015, two 15-year-old girls created fake emails to rig the vote in favour of the kÅkako. The then-Labour leader, Andrew Little, who was running a campaign for the kÄrearea, bemoaned the fact that âthe campaignâs turned dirtyâ.Fat Bear Week: Alaska's brown bears face off in battle of the plumpest Read more
And in a copycat attack, Guardian Australiaâs own inaugural Australian Bird of the Year poll was marred by automated voting for the powerful owl.
âI think people get really passionate about their favourite bird, and some are prepared to do whatever it ta kes to get their bird over the line,â said a spokeswoman for Forest & Bird on Friday. âPerhaps people want to test our systems and have a bit of a laugh.â
But she also issued a stern warning to fraudsters to stop.
âThere are better ways to show your love for New Zealandâs native birds. Weâre pretty confident nothing will get past our scrutineers, so thereâs not much point trying.â
As of Friday afternoon, the kererÅ«, or woodpigeon, was in the lead, with the kÄkÄpÅ in second and the critically endangered kakÄ«, or black stilt, in third.
Despite running every year for the past 14 years, no bird has ever won the competition twice.
Guardian Australia asked whether this was due to organisers influencing the vote to ens ure that a new bird won every year, but Forest & Bird denied the charge.
âThereâs absolutely no internal interference,â the spokeswoman said.
âThere are so many wonderful and unique native birds in New Zealand, and the ones that have won before just donât seem to do as well in subsequent years. The public obviously feels itâs time for another bird to shine.
âPartly I think itâs because campaign managers are more likely to back birds that havenât won before, so those are the birds that tend to have the most visible and active social media campaigns.â
As well as the shag scandal, this yearâs scrutineers also struck out 28 fake votes for the blue duck, and five for the orange-fronted parakeet. 20,000 votes have been cast in five days, and this yearâs competition looks set to outpace the record 41,000 votes cast last year.
The shag or cormorant group of birds is made up of 36 species found across the world, and eight are end emic to New Zealand.
The name âshagâ is thought to reference their shaggy plumage, and historically, the bird was hunted by fishers who erroneously thought they ate trout and depleted fishing stocks.
Voting closes on 14 October and the winner will be announced the next day.Topics
- New Zealand
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