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Threatened bird, the pūteketeke, lands the top spot in New Zealand bird contest

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Election results out of New Zealand are raising fears about foreign influence from the United States.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're not talking about last month's general election for parliament. No, this is about the race to be crowned New Zealand's Bird of the Century.

NICOLA TOKI: Bird of the Century is essentially a ramped-up version of our annual Bird of the Year competition.

MARTÍNEZ: Nicola Toki is the chief executive of Forest & Bird. That's the conservation group that organizes the contest. This one was supposed to mark the organization's 100th birthday. Toki says the competition took an unexpected turn.

TOKI: Earlier this year, John Oliver's team from "Last Week Tonight" reached out to my team and said, could John Oliver be a campaign manager for Bird of the Century? And we said, why not?

MARTIN: She's referring to the John Oliver who hosts "Last Week Tonight" on HBO. Given a list of birds to choose from, Oliver chose the puteketeke, a rare species many New Zealanders had never heard of. That is, until Oliver's campaign raised the bird's profile.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER")

JOHN OLIVER: Even its name is fun to say, puteketeke, puteketeke. It feels like your tongue is tap dancing.

MARTÍNEZ: Oliver clearly was a fan.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER")

OLIVER: And you want elegance? Oh, I'll give you some elegance. They have a mating dance where they both grab a clump of wet grass and chest bump each other before standing around unsure of what to do next.

MARTÍNEZ: The comedian urged his viewers to vote online for the puteketeke.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER")

OLIVER: Do it, because after all, this is what democracy is all about, America interfering in foreign elections.

MARTIN: Oliver even had billboards and banners put up in cities around the world from London to Tokyo. The campaign took off. It got so big it even crashed Forest & Bird's website and delayed the announcement of the winner by a couple of days.

MARTÍNEZ: Perhaps unsurprisingly, the puteketeke won, racking up nearly 300,000 votes. Finishing in a distant second place was the bird more commonly associated with New Zealand.

ERIN REILLY: Call yourself a kiwi, vote kiwi. It's duh, of course it's the kiwi.

MARTIN: That's Erin Reilly with Save the Kiwi. She says her campaign is claiming a moral victory, despite the puteketeke receiving more than 20 times as many votes.

REILLY: If you take puteketeke and, you know, foreign American dirty politics out of the equation, we won.

MARTÍNEZ: But Reilly says, ultimately, there's no hard feelings. She hopes the contest encourages more people to think about conservation. It's pretty good PR for the puteketeke, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF AVA LOW'S "SASHIMI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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