As it turns out, not even New Zealand's Bird of the Year competition is able to avoid vote rigging, slander, and trolls in this era of dirty politics. Who knew a wildlife contest could get so fierce?
Things got off to a rocky start this year when the competition was marred by voter fraud on the day polls opened. Despite a very clear one email (and thus one person) one vote rule, a resident of Christchurch logged 112 votes for the white-faced heron.
“We’re not mad, just impressed that someone cares enough about New Zealand’s native birds to rig the competition,” said Bird of the Year Coordinator Kimberley Collins.
“We suspect their plan was to sneakily increase the heron’s numbers by a few hundred each night while we were all sleeping."
Then there was a smear campaign launched on Instagram under the account @gullforglory. The culprits were some rogue campaigners for the Black Billed Gull, the most endangered species of seagulls on the planet. Over the past 10 days, they have posted and distributed some rather hilarious memes in an attempt to sully the reputation of some of the gull's competitors.
It called the country's national symbol – the kiwi – a "fat flightless f**k".
Pūkekos were labeled "homeless chicken[s]".
Apparently all white-faced herons are "racist[s]".
Whereas kakapos are sex pests. Although this is probably the least slanderous, as this video clip shows Sirocco the Kakapo making the moves on a British documentary filmmaker. Sirocco was made the New Zealand's official spokesbird for conservation in 2010 and of course has his own Twitter page.
And of course, the poor old Rockhopper penguin got the classic Trump treatment.
The Black Billed Gull's official campaigners have confirmed that @gullforglory is not part of the official campaign, tweeting " Im [sic] saddened this nonsense is tarnishing
@VoteGull's hard work".
The event's organizers, however, seem to be much more forgiving of @gullforglory's fowl play.
"Good on the boys for getting behind the black-billed gull. It's one of the rarest gulls in the world, so they've picked a real battler," said Collins, reports The New Zealand Herald. Not that they can "condone" the group's attempts at character assassination, she adds.
The Bird of the Year competition is held annually to raise awareness of the threats currently facing endangered bird species. According to Forest and Bird, who hosts the event, 68 percent of New Zealand's birds are "in trouble" and one-third are at risk of extinction.
Roughly 20,000 people vote for their favorite bird each year. Last year's winner was the kōkako.
Most campaigners stick to more benign tactics but this bad behavior isn't entirely out of the ordinary. According to Collins,"Bird of the Year always involves a lot of dirty tactics and tricks – just like any political event."