Wellington: The critically endangered native long-tailed bat has been named as New Zealand's Bird of the Year 2021, the event organiser announced on Monday.
This is the first time New Zealand's only land mammal has been included in Forest & Bird's annual contest, reports Xinhua news agency.
The Bird of the Year competition is an annual competition held by New Zealand's independent conservation organisation Forest & Bird, in a bid to raise people's awareness of the country's native birds.
After a two-week campaign that nearly broke the Internet and turned friends against one another, the long-tailed bat was the winner with both the most No. 1 ranked votes, and most votes after transferrable vote rankings were applied.
"Kiwis clearly love their native bat, and they have chosen our only native land mammal to be the 2021 Bird of the Year," Forest & Bird's Bird of the Year spokesperson Laura Keown said.
"The campaign to raise awareness and support for this little flying furball has captured the nation. A vote for bats is also a vote for predator control, habitat restoration, and climate action to protect our bats and their feathered neighbours."
"Long-tailed bats, or pekapeka-tou-roa, are a unique part of New Zealand's biodiversity, but lots of people don't know they even exist," said Ben Paris, senior conservation advisor at Auckland Council and New Zealand Batman.
"There are pekapeka projects spanning the whole country with conservation communities doing great mahi with our bats. Here in Auckland our bat conservation efforts have been supported by our targeted rate which has allowed us, together with our communities, to undertake a lot more work," he said.
"These bats were added to Forest & Bird's competition to help people get to know them, and their story has flown around the world."
Forest & Bird runs Pelorus River Bat Recovery Project in Marlborough with the support of the Department of Conservation, involving 250 hectares of predator control and a bat monitoring program every summer to identify roost sites and protect critical long-tailed bat habitat.
New Zealand has two species of native bats, the long-tailed bat and short-tailed bat, of which there are three subspecies.
A third species, the greater short-tailed bat, is thought to be extinct.