Toronto Star ePaper

Oliver campaign a win for weirdo


Comedian John Oliver has succeeded in his campaign to have what he describes as a weird, puking bird with a colourful mullet win New Zealand’s Bird of the Century contest.

He managed to elbow out the iconic national bird, the kiwi.

Conservation group Forest and Bird on Wednesday announced that Oliver’s favoured water bird, the puteketeke, had won after Oliver went all-out in a humorous campaign for the bird on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight.” The North Island brown kiwi came in second.

Vote checkers in New Zealand were so overwhelmed by Oliver’s foreign interference they had to postpone naming the winning bird for two days.

Usually billed Bird of the Year, the annual event is held to raise awareness about the plight of the nation’s native birds, some of which have been driven to extinction. This year, the contest was named Bird of the Century to mark the group’s centennial.

Oliver discovered a loophole in the rules, which allowed anybody with a valid email address to cast a vote.

Oliver had a billboard erected for “The Lord of the Wings” in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington. He also put up billboards in Paris, Tokyo, London and Mumbai, India. He had a plane with a banner fly over Ipanema Beach in Brazil. And he wore an oversized bird costume on Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show.”

“After all, this is what democracy is all about,” Oliver said on his show. “America interfering in foreign elections.”

Forest and Bird didn’t immediately release the final vote tally Wednesday, but said the group received more than 350,000 verified votes, more than six times the previous record of 56,700 in 2021.

They said Oliver’s “high-powered” campaign temporarily crashed their voting verification system.

“It’s been pretty crazy, in the best possible way,” chief executive Nicola Toki told The Associated Press before the winner was announced.

New Zealand is unusual in that birds developed as the dominant animals before humans arrived.

“If you think about the wildlife in New Zealand, we don’t have lions and tigers and bears,” Toki said. Despite nearly nine of every 10 New Zealanders now living in towns or cities, she added, many retain a deep love of nature.

“We have this intangible and extraordinarily powerful connection to our wildlife and our birds,” Toki said.





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