An anti-social penguin that communicates through a high-pitched scream has won the much-coveted New Zealand Bird of the Year poll, but people are so invested in the competition that they're now alleging Russia interfered with the results. Could this story get any more 2019?
The yellow-eyed penguin, or hoiho, topped this year's contest, fighting off the mighty k?k?p? for first place. The hoiho pictured below is in its adolescent phase and is shedding its downy juvenile coat.
Yellow-eyed penguins are found in New Zealand, living and breeding mainly on the South Island and some close-by smaller islands, including Stewart Island and Codfish Island. Tourists flock to the Otago Peninsula, where they can see them up close using tunnels and hides.
Like the kiwi – as well as other entries to the competition – the yellow-eyed penguin is considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Increasing sea temperatures that impact the penguins’ ability to breed, human impacts such as large-scale fishing, introduced predators, habitat degradation, and human disturbance have all played their part in endangering these gorgeous birds.
As of 2017 there were only around 3,200 left in the wild, down from 7,000 in 2000. As well as being an adorable birb, it's now one of the rarest penguins in the world and certainly needs highlighting by the competition win. So, is everybody happy with the win? No. Some are accusing Russia of interference.
New Zealand takes the competition very seriously indeed. As well as a ridiculous number of memes...
...it's so big that in 2017 there were accusations of fraud, slander, and voter rigging, as well as a smear campaign in which the kiwi was branded a "fat flightless fuck" and various other birds were accused of being racists.
After voters tried to fix the result (one massive fan of the white-faced heron was able to log 112 votes for their favorite bird), the competition brought in an independent scrutineer – Dragonfly Data Science – like the UN going into a country to monitor an election.
Unfortunately, that hasn't put an end to accusations of cheating. This year, when their data showed that hundreds of votes came from Russia people were quick to accuse the Kremlin of interference and call for a Mueller-style investigation immediately.
However, the competition organizers have pointed out that this isn't at all suspicious.
“People are coming up with all kinds of theories about Russian involvement in New Zealand elections,” Megan Hubscher, a spokesperson for Forest and Bird, which runs the competition, told The Guardian. “But we can assure everyone that everything seems above board this time around.”
Russia, she points out, shares a lot of birds with New Zealand, including the bar-tailed godwit that every year migrates between the two. So before you go accusing Putin, there's likely a simpler explanation: People in Russia like birbs too.