John Oliver’s pūtekeke wins 2023 New Zealand ‘Bird of the Year’

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When it came to managing the pūteketeke run for New Zealand’s “Bird of the Year” competition, comedian John Oliver took a page out of the history books for inspiration: “This is what it’s all about democracy – America meddling in foreign elections,” he said. he joked earlier this month on his show, “Last Week Tonight.”

After putting up menus in some of the world’s busiest corners, flying flags over Brazil’s Ipanema Beach and dressing up as a bird on TV, contestant Oliver used more than 280,000 vote in a contest that had previously seen a record turnout of around 56,000. in 2021. It was a landslide victory for a species that Oliver described as “strange, scurrying birds with colorful mullets” and a very unusual source of mating rituals. The pūteketeke was announced as the winner on Tuesday afternoon – Wednesday morning in New Zealand – two days after competition organizers had planned to make the announcement, which was delayed due to the volume of votes.

“We promised a fight but we didn’t expect this at all!” said Nicola Toki, chief executive of Forest & Bird, which runs the annual competition. “We are delighted to see the enthusiasm, creativity and debate this campaign has ignited.”

Since 2005, Forest & Bird, a New Zealand-based conservation group, has run a “Bird of the Year” competition as a way to raise awareness of New Zealand’s native bird species, of which around 80 percent are threatened or endangered. to disappear. But what started as a poll with about 800 responses in the group’s first email newsletter has turned into a full-blown election race – with debates, campaign events and scandals with a familiar feel. .

For example, during the 2018 competition, 300 fake votes were cast in Australia for the shag. The following year, an invasion of Russian votes fueled rumors of election meddling, although the votes were later deemed valid. In 2021, the batsman led a once improbable ascent to win the Bird of the Year. Last year, Forest & Bird established a term limit of sorts for the fan favorite kākāpō, a fat flightless parrot that had won the title many times.

This year’s edition, renamed “Bird of the Century” in honor of Forest & Bird’s centenary, represented the strongest selection yet – largely due to self-initiative -described Oliver as “scary aggressive”.

It all started when Oliver’s team contacted the group several weeks ago, asking if the TV show host could be a campaign manager, Forest & Bird spokeswoman Ellen Rykers said.

“We said, ‘Yes, absolutely.’ Go for it,’ and you sent them a list of birds,” Rykers said. “They chose the pūteketeke.”

Oliver said he could identify with a bird that has “a courtship dance where they both get a clump of wet grass and breast beat each other before standing around unsure of what to do next . The grass gifts are part of their “weed dance,” and the breast movement is called the “penguin ghost,” Rykers said, adding that the birds are also known for carrying their chicks on their backs. back

Among the comedian’s achievements was a billboard touting the pūteketeke as “Lord of the Wings” in Wellington, New Zealand. Along the famous Parisian avenue known as the Champs-Élysées, Oliver’s banner featured the bird in a collection of every French stereotype under the sun: smoking a cigarette, wearing a beret and drinking wine near the Tower Eiffel, next to the phrase, in French, “Beauty. Grace Elegance.” In London, a van went around with a picture of the bird on a throne saying, “Help us crown a real king.”

In pursuit of a Midwestern voting block, the team also targeted the 34,000-person city of Manitowoc, Wis., with a pūteketeke flag splashed in patriotic red, white and blue.

After Oliver detailed those efforts during the Nov. 5 episode of “Last Week Tonight,” the pūtekekeke received more than 10,000 votes overnight. While Rykers said it was “great that people all over the world now know about New Zealand’s birds and clearly love them a lot,” he said feathers nevertheless in New Zealand .

One group campaigning for the kākāriki karaka put up billboards reading: “Dear John, don’t disturb the pecking order.” Erin Reilly, campaign manager for New Zealand’s national bird, the kiwi, called Oliver’s tactics “bird play” and accused him of “really trashing the Bird of the Century” and not liking it. birds

Although Oliver’s campaign initially left some New Zealanders fearful of their new competition, Rykers said it ultimately spurred a revolution of sorts – with campaign managers appearing on national television and using creative tactics to “fight against foreign interference in… the most important election in our country,” as Dunedin City Council put it when they campaigned for the hoiho.

After voting closed on Saturday – Sunday in New Zealand – Forest & Bird had hoped to crown a winner the following day, but the overwhelming number of votes forced the organization to delay announcing the results.

“We don’t need the Electoral Commission to put the beak on our ballot,” Toki, the agency’s chief executive, said in a press release. “We can ensure the integrity of the Bird of the Century election result in just two an extra day.”

In the end, the total number of verified votes increased to 350,000. Tuesday afternoon – Wednesday in New Zealand – the pūteketeke was crowned Bird of the Century, prompting Prime Minister-elect Christopher Luxon to issue a congratulatory statement.

The influence of the pūteketeke stands not only as a low-key example of foreign influence but is also an example of “the return of the century,” Rykers said.

Just 40 years ago, only around 200 pūteketeke were left in the wild – due to the species’ vulnerability to non-native predators in their habitats and to boating -over-sailing that often destroyed their floating nests, Rykers said. Through grassroots efforts, their numbers have swelled to around 1,000.

Despite the huge victory of the phūteketeke, not everyone played by the rules in this year’s election. About 40,000 votes were cast by one person for the tawaki piki toka, also known as the eastern rockhopper penguin. And in Pennsylvania, someone tried to game the system by spamming the group with a total of 3,403 votes that arrived every three seconds.

“That might be the real U.S. intervention,” Rykers joked.

In both cases, the votes were removed.

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