Voting flap hits New Zealand's Bird of the Year poll

By News from Elsewhere... found by BBC Monitoring

image copyrightHasitha Tudugalle
image captionThe white-faced heron: an innocent victim of alleged voting fraud

New Zealand's 'Bird of the Year' poll has been hit by vote-fixing claims for the second time in three years.

The prestigious, and, some would say, heated competition is run by the country's Forest and Bird organisation, and has run into controversy just three days after its launch, Newshub reports.

It appears that one unnamed Christchurch citizen has been flouting the "one person, one vote" rule by setting up 112 email accounts to cast votes for a certain avian variety.

Wellington-based scientist Yvan Richard spotted the apparent fraud using a program that he had previously used to follow elections. "I noticed there was a big spike for the white-faced heron at about midnight on the first day of voting, so I let Forest and Bird know," he said.

Forest and Bird's Kimberley Collins said measures have now been put in place to prevent it from happening again. "We're not mad, just impressed that someone cares enough about New Zealand's native birds to rig the competition," she told New Zealand Herald.

But as reports, the poll is splitting households in New Zealand where it has become "a fractious political bird-fight".

"If you pick a dumb bird you have to have a think about what that says about you," one voter who disagreed with his partner's vote for the kereru wood pigeon said.

Bird is the word

It's not the first time that the Bird of the Year competition has made national headlines due to fraudulent voting. In 2015, two teenage girls owned up to creating fake accounts to vote for the kokako, Radio New Zealand reported at the time.

In response, Forest and Bird invited the sisters to take on some voluntary work for the organisation to atone for their behaviour.

Bird of the Year has become a vehicle that raises awareness of the fragility of New Zealand's ecosystem, where a third of native bird species are at risk of becoming extinct through imported predators and the destruction of their habitats.

This year's competition, which closes on 23 October, sees the kea - the parrot dubbed "clown of the mountains" - well ahead in the voting.

Speaking of the fraudulent white-faced heron enthusiast (which now has just 63 votes), Ms Collins says she hopes they can see the error of their ways.

"We do hope the weight of their conscience will prompt them to make a donation to our appeal," she tells Radio NZ.

image copyrightMatt Binns
image captionFans of the kokako brought shame on the species in 2015

Reporting by Alistair Coleman

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