A competition to find New Zealand’s favourite native bird has received more than 300 “dubious” votes cast in favour of the shag.
The seabird – which is a species of cormorant – received a flood of votes, all traced to Australia, on Wednesday night, which organisers dubbed as “potentially someone’s idea of a joke”.
The country’s annual bird of the year competition is run by Forest and Bird New Zealand and is in its 14th year.
It raises awareness about the country’s unique native birds in crisis and receives tens of thousands of votes from around the world, as well as celebrity endorsements.
Forest and Bird shared a graph on Twitter of the king shag’s popularity skyrocketing following the high volume of fraudulent votes in just 24 hours.
“Last night, we had 310 dubious votes for the shag from an I.P. address in Australia,” the conservation group said.
It added that the votes had been noticed by its “official scrutineers” who had “picked up the votes and shut them down”.
This year, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has backed the black petrel, which she called “the bogan of the birds”.
Stephen Fry and Bill Bailey have also cast their votes, with both backing the endangered kakapo – a parrot known for causing trouble in New Zealand’s south island.
Forest & Bird New Zealand spokeswoman Caitlin Carew said there was a team keeping an eye on the live data who were ready to shut down any suspicious voting.
She added: “Honestly, there are better ways to show your love for our native birds. And we’re pretty confident nothing will get past our experts, so there’s not much point trying.”
Despite the foreign interference, legitimate votes poured in with more than 20,000 confirmed in the first four days of voting.
“We’ve nearly reached half of last year’s vote total, 41,000, and there’s still 10 days to go,” Forest & Bird New Zealand spokeswoman Caitlyn Carew said.
Last year, the competition received 112 fraudulent votes from one IP address in the Christchurch area for the white-faced heron.
Voting for the 2019 competition closes at 5pm on Sunday 14 October and the winning bird will be announced Monday 15 October.
(c) Sky News 2018: New Zealand’s bird of the year competition flooded with votes for the shag