WELLINGTON, Nov 2 (Reuters) - A tiny bat took off with New Zealand's bird of the year award this week, making it the first non-bird to win the coveted title that is closely watched in the Pacific island nation.
The pekapeka-tou-roa or the long-tailed bat, which is about the size of a thumb, was added to the competition this year to help raise awareness of the mammal as it faces extinction.
It was declared the winner after a two-week campaign which organisers claim "broke the internet".
"The campaign to raise awareness and support for this little flying furball has captured the nation!" Forest & Bird's Bird of the Year spokesperson Laura Keown said in a statement.
"A vote for bats is also a vote for predator control, habitat restoration, and climate action to protect our bats and their feathered neighbours," she said.
This is the first time a bat, or any mammal, was included in the contest organised by New Zealand's Forest & Bird conservation charity, and the winning choice https://twitter.com/Forest_and_Bird/status/1454904174802444289?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1454904174802444289%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bbc.com%2Fnews%2Fworld-asia-59115346 stoked much controversy on social media. Many expressed their disappointment and called the contest a farce.
"If I were a bird, I would feel ripped off," said one Twitter user.
The voting closed on Oct. 31 with 56,733 verified votes cast, making it the biggest ever Bird of the Year.
"Long-tailed bats, or pekapeka-tou-roa, are a unique part of Aotearoa's biodiversity, but lots of people don't know they even exist," said Ben Paris, senior conservation advisor at Auckland Council, using the Maori name for New Zealand.
The long-tailed bat, which has the scientific name Chalinolobus tuberculatus, received 7,031 votes, beating the kakapo, which got 4,072 votes to come second. The kakapo, called an owl parrot, is a large, flightless and nocturnal bird, which is also considered critically endangered, and won the competition last year.
The annual Bird of the Year competition has run into several controversies over the years.
The 2020 election was roiled with voter fraud after 1,500 fraudulent votes were recorded for the kiwi pukupuku or the little-spotted kiwi.
Hundreds of votes from Russia sparked accusation of Russian meddling in the elections in 2019. (Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Karishma Singh)
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