23 Oct 2015

Vote-fixing hits 'Bird of the Year'

8:18 pm on 23 October 2015

A vote-fixing scandal has rocked the 'Bird of the Year' competition run by Forest and Bird.

A North Island kokako.

A North Island kōkako Photo: DOC

Event co-ordinator Kimberley Collins said, last night, two 15-year-old girls created a number of fake emails and flooded the competition's voting system with fraudulent votes for the kōkako.

The rort was spotted last night by kōkako campaign managers when votes for the bird spiked massively in a short period of time, Ms Collins said.

"Somebody had submitted a huge number of emails with the same domain name and the same IP address, so the alarm bells went off and I looked into it, and we managed to deactivate all those votes and block that person's IP address.

"This morning, I contacted the person who owned that domain and said 'hey look, we've had all these fraudulent votes for Bird of the Year, could you maybe let us know if they're anything to do with you and, if not, you might want to check your systems'."

A New Zealand native falcon (karearea)

The kārearea - one of the other birds in the competition Photo: Supplied

She said the vote rigging was carried out by the man's teenage daughters, who were supposed to be studying for their NCEA.

"We absolutely admire their passion. I think it's wonderful to see young people get so caught up in a competition about New Zealand's native birds and conservation and the environment, but we'd really like to see that passion channelled away from fraudulent voting in the competition and towards conservation.

"We're going to try and get them out into one of our local projects out in the park where they can do some weeding and some trapping of predators that protects the birds."

The rules for Bird of the Year allowed one vote per person so all but one each of the teenagers' votes had been discounted, Ms Collins said.

'Game's up, kōkako'

Kōkako campaign manager Oscar Thomas said his camp did not condone the vote rigging.

"We're surprised that somebody would rig such a light-hearted contest and taint the name of such a beautiful bird."

Ms Collins said never before had such work gone into helping a particular bird top the poll.

Labour leader Andrew Little, who is this year's campaign manager for the kārearea, said he was unimpressed.

"So, the campaign's turned dirty but then I guess there'll always be someone, or bird, that tries to undermine democracy," he said.

"And people wonder why the kārearea is so determined to defend its territory - game's up, kōkako."

Associate Conservation Minister Nicky Wagner, who has been supporting the wrybill, said she was deeply shocked there had been corruption in the voting process.

"I'm really concerned that someone or something has gone to a whole lot of trouble to undermine the obvious first choice, the wrybill.

"The wrybill is the only bird in the world to adapt its beak to become a feeding machine.

"The wrybill is truly representative of New Zealand and the Kiwi No 8 ingenuity fencing wire. No other bird can make that claim but fortunately the wrybill is a long distance traveller and this competition is a marathon, not a sprint."

On Friday, the kōkako was coming second behind the bar-tailed godwit. Voting closes on Sunday.

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