The contestants were completely unaware that they were running. The winner did not get a reward. Furthermore, the champion looked to be ineligible to participate, at least on the surface of things.
The race was for the title of New Zealand’s Bird of the Year, an annual competition that provides New Zealanders the chance to pick their favourite birds from among the country’s 200-plus native species while also raising awareness of the birds’ hardship on the country’s environment.
However, according to contest organisers, this year’s top prize was won by a long-tailed bat, one of New Zealand’s two native land mammals, who flew away with the top prize.
The pekapeka-tou-roa bat’s bravado prompted some on social media to brand the competition a farce and scream against what they saw to be a rigged poll. Other voters, on the other hand, praised the outcome.
The disappointment was seen positively by one person, who wrote: “If pekapeka tou roa can win Bird of the Year despite the fact that he is not a bird, then you may ask out your sweetheart, everything is possible.”
The Bird of the Year campaign, which runs for two weeks and is organised by the conservation nonprofit Forest and Bird, is done in the same way as New Zealand’s election system, using an instant-runoff system. In the past, there have been allegations of vote stuffing, fraudulent polls, and even accusations of Russian participation in the battle. An electoral database was hacked last year, and one flightless bird was propelled to the top of the results by a hacker who inserted more than 1,500 bogus votes.
However, according to the organisers, there was no skulduggery involved in this year’s outcome. It was the first time that New Zealand’s two native bat species had been featured among the avian competitors, and they hoped that this would help increase awareness.
A spokesperson for the event, Laura Keown, said that “because of New Zealand’s dearth of mammals, Bat of the Year was going to be a rather dull competition.” The potential to draw attention to this critically endangered native species and bring them out of the shadows seemed like a good idea at the time.”
The country’s two bat species confront many of the same challenges as more well-known wildlife such as the kiwi, which was the winner of the 2009 international bird competition. Pests such as rats, cats, and possums, as well as the degradation of their forest habitats and climate change, pose a threat to the survival of land mammals. The population is falling at a rate of around 5% every year.
Ms. Keown told reporters last week that for a long time, a bat has been the clear winner of the avian battle “by a significant margin.” The lesser short-tailed bat was the only other competitor who could give the long-tailed bat a run for its money in terms of popularity with the public. They were being pursued by a kakapo, a big, flightless parrot that had been crowned champion the year before.
Nearly 57,000 people from across the globe participated in this year’s online competition, the highest number in the contest’s 16-year history, perhaps pulled in by the charming, fuzzy faces of New Zealand’s native bats.
The secretive, nocturnal species, which is around the length of a thumb and capable of flitting from tree to tree at high speeds of more than 35 miles per hour, has never been observed by the vast majority of New Zealanders.
It is very difficult, according to Dr. Borkin, to reintroduce bats into a colony after they have been driven from a territory. Keeping the trees that we presently have and planting more will ensure that there will be more in the future for the bats to utilise, says the researcher.
Ms. Keown was unable to confirm whether or not bats will make another appearance in the tournament the following year.