Hihi sperm generates world interest

A male hihi, also know as a stitchbird. PHOTO: ALEX KNIGHT
A male hihi, also know as a stitchbird. PHOTO: ALEX KNIGHT

A quirky  fundraiser for the hihi or stitchbird, which went global on social media, has hopefully proved it is a "bird worth backing'', an Otago researcher says.

The Great Hihi Sperm Race, in which a research team from the University of Otago encouraged punters to bet on which male stitchbird had the fastest sperm, closed at midnight on Sunday.

Department of anatomy research fellow Helen Taylor said the race went "brilliantly'' and exceeded its $10,000 target.

Residents of 17 countries around the world placed a total of 537 wagers.

Bets totalled $10,874, but at least $500 more was generated through novelty T-shirt sales.

"For it to take off and capture so many people's interest in the way that it did was just amazing.

"The international response was also wonderful to see,'' Dr Taylor said.

Initially, she worried the idea might be "too weird''.

Dr Taylor credited "massive media interest'', social media, and the "tireless promotion by members of the Hihi Recovery Group'' for the results.

The hihi is found in seven locations in New Zealand, and there are believed to be about 1000 birds left.

There are no hihi in the South Island, and Dr Taylor's research involved birds from Little Barrier Island, Tiritiri Matangi Island near Auckland, Bushy Park sanctuary near Whanganui, and Zealandia sanctuary in Wellington.

The 128 male birds which formed part of Dr Taylor's research were used for the sperm race.

All bets were treated as donations to the Hihi Recovery Group, but everyone who placed a wager went in the draw to win a prize.

Dr Taylor said the winners would be announced on May 6.


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