"Humans typically reserve their practices of mourning for loved ones. But
extending these rituals of grief and loss to non-human animals (and our shared
habitats) can also help us appreciate being part of the natural world, not
separate from it.
So the recent decision to include extinct species in New Zealand’s Bird of the
Year – now Bird of the Century – competition offers an opportunity to grieve in
another way. In turn, this may help foster an ethic of care for the environment
and greater appreciation of what may yet be saved.
The competition began 18 years ago as a modest campaign by environmental group
Forest & Bird to draw attention to native birds, many of which are endangered.
It has since grown into a national phenomenon.
Various bird species have their own “campaign managers”, celebrities and
politicians publicly endorse their favourite feathered creature, and tens of
thousands of votes are cast every year.
The hotly contested election has not been without controversy, either. In 2019,
for example, the discovery of hundreds of votes being registered from Russia
led to claims of election meddling. In 2021, it made headlines for allowing a
native bat to enter – to the dismay of many, the bat won.
Last year, the organisers were even threatened with a lawsuit over their
refusal to include the extinct huia – a bird last seen in the wild in 1907. A
concerned environmentalist wrote to Forest & Bird to say: “We need to be
urgently reminded of what we have already lost, if we are to minimise further
This year’s competition – which opens for voting on October 30 and also marks
Forest & Bird’s centenary – answers that call."
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics