WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand’s canvassers were so overwhelmed by foreign interference that they had to delay announcing the winner.
The competition to choose the nation’s favorite bird, with input from comedian John Oliver.
Organized by the Forest and Bird Conservation Group, the annual event, often dubbed “Bird of the Year”, is held to raise awareness about the plight of the country’s native birds, some of which have been threatened with extinction. This year, the competition was named “Bird of the Century” to mark the 100th anniversary of the group’s founding.
Oliver discovered a loophole in the rules, which allowed anyone with a valid email address to cast a ballot. So he went all out with a humorous campaign for his favorite bird, the pūteketeke, on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight.”
Oliver had a billboard for “The Lord of the Wings” in the New Zealand capital, Wellington. He also placed billboards in Paris, Tokyo, London and Mumbai, India. He had a plane with a banner flying over Ipanema Beach in Brazil. He dressed up as an oversized bird on Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show.”
“Ultimately, this is the essence of democracy,” Oliver said on his show. “America interferes in foreign elections”
Forest & Bird said canvassers had to spend an additional two days verifying the hundreds of thousands of votes that poured in by Sunday’s deadline. They now plan to announce the winner on Wednesday.
“It’s been absolutely crazy, in the best way possible,” CEO Nicola Tocchi told The Associated Press.
New Zealand is unusual in that birds evolved to become the dominant animals before humans arrived.
“If you think about New Zealand’s wildlife, we don’t have lions, tigers and bears,” Toki said. She added that although nearly nine out of ten New Zealanders now live in towns or cities, many retain a deep love of nature.
“We have this intangible, very strong connection to our wildlife and our birds,” Toki said.
The contest has weathered previous controversy. In 2020, election auditors discovered about 1,500 fraudulent votes for the little spotted kiwi. Two years ago, a bat won the competition, which was allowed because it was considered part of the bird family by indigenous Maori.
When the contest started in 2005, they received a total of 865 votes, which they considered a great success, Toki said. That rose to a record 56,000 votes two years ago, a number that was surpassed this year within two hours of Oliver launching his campaign, she said.
Oliver contacted the group earlier this year and asked if he could advocate for a bird, Tuckey said. They asked him to move on, not knowing what was coming.
“I was crying with laughter,” Toki said when she saw Oliver’s clip.
Oliver described the pūteketeke, which number fewer than 1,000 in New Zealand and are also known as the Australian crested crow, as “strange, mullet-coloured vomiting birds”.
“They do a mating dance where they each hold a clump of wet grass and their chests bump against each other before they stand up unsure of what to do next,” Oliver said on his show, adding that he had never known anything like this in his life. .
Some in New Zealand opposed Oliver’s campaign. One group put up billboards reading: “Dear John, don’t disrupt the hierarchy,” while others urged people to vote for the national bird, the kiwi. Oliver responded by saying that the kiwi looked like “a mouse with a toothpick.”
“For the record, all your birds are amazing, and it would be an honor to lose to any of them when the results are announced on Wednesday,” Oliver said on his show. “The reason it’s easy for me to say that is because we’re not going to lose, right? We’re going to win, and we’re going to win by a big margin.”
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