• Officials have uncovered evidence of voter fraud tampering with an important national contest when more than 1,500 fraudulent votes were submitted as part of New Zealand's "Bird of the Year" poll.
  • The deceit was discovered when a data science team noticed an unusual surge of votes overnight, all of which were for the little spotted kiwi, pushing that bird to the top of the contest.
  • "Voter fraud is not the kiwi way," said a campaign manager for the competition, which aims to raise awareness and funds for native New Zealand bird, many of which are endangered. 
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The little spotted kiwi, which is also known as kiwi pukupuku in its native New Zealand, seemed poised to win the prestigious honor of "Bird of the Year" in the island nation's annual conservation contest this week.

But officials discovered evidence of foul play as 1,500 votes for the little-spotted kiwi were found to be fraudulent. 

The contest's hawk-eyed data science team noticed something was odd when a surge of votes came in overnight, boosting the little spotted kiwi to the top of the pecking order. 

"It's lucky we spotted this little kiwi trying to sneak in an extra 1500 votes under the cover of darkness," Laura Keown, spokesperson for the Bird of the Year competition, said in a press release. "But they'll have to play by the rules like all of the other birds to win the competition." The little spotted kiwi is an at-risk species — there are believed to be about 1,500 of the birds currently living in an around New Zealand, according to conservationists.

The perpetrators of the fraud have not been identified, but the little spotted kiwi's campaign has publicly disavowed the attempted election interference. 

"Voter fraud is not the kiwi way," Emma Rawson, campaign manager for the little spotted kiwi, said in the press release.

Following the discovery, the fraudulent votes were thrown out. The competition ended on Sunday in a surprising upset, with the kakapo, a species of flightless parrot, swooping in at the last minute to take the title. The kakapo, or owl parrot, is the heaviest parrot species in the world, and the only species to win a second Bird of the Year title (its first victory was in 2008). 


Also vying to rule the roost were dozens of New Zealand's native avians, including four other types of kiwi birds, parrots, ducks, several species of penguin native to the island, and birds of prey such as the harrier and the New Zealand falcon. 

The contest is hosted by Forest & Bird, one of New Zealand's top conservation organizations, to raise awareness of endangered and threatened wildlife, and to encourage donations support the group's efforts to protect native habitats.

"All of our birds deserve a fighting chance, especially this little manu, our smallest kiwi, which is so threatened by predators that it is extinct on mainland New Zealand outside of predator-free sanctuaries," Keown said in the press release.

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