Fancy a wager?

06 April 2018

New Zealand’s hihi (stitchbirds) plight with parasites and a friendly wager among researchers during their field work has produced a very creative project to raise money that will go towards the conservation of this cheeky bird.

The protected bird has been a focus for the School of Biological Sciences Doctoral Candidate Alex Knight’s research into the genetics, disease ecology and conservation of the hihi. Once found across New Zealand’s North Island, hihi are now few in numbers with just seven isolated populations in existence.

As part of the research, Alex, who is supervised by Senior Lecturer Anna Santure also from the School of Biological Sciences, attended a fieldtrip with the University of Otago’s Dr Helen Taylor and Hihi Recovery Group’s Mhairi McCready where they visited four sites to collect hihi blood, feces and semen samples to understand how the genetic diversity in these populations might influence male fertility and susceptibility to parasites.

It was during one such exercise, on Tiritiri Matangi, that Alex, Helen and Mhairi had a bet on which bird had the fastest sperm swimming speed.

“Then we had the bright idea,” says Alex, “why not let some other people bet, or even better hold a competition to raise money towards hihi conservation efforts” - and the Great Hihi Sperm Race was born.

The project has generated a lovely website, adorned by a beautiful logo that Alex himself designed. The logo is also available on the specially made The Great Hihi Sperm Race t.shirts that retail for $45 dollars. So far, the group have raised $5000 dollars.

“It’s been amazing to see something that is so much fun and generates income and publicity for the species grow out of a joke we had after work one night, which is mainly due to Helen's hard work and drive to make it succeed,” says Alex.

For more information about The Great Hihi Sperm Race, or to place a bet to enter the draw to win prizes, and buy a limited edition t-shirt to support the cause, please see: https://www.hihispermrace.nz/. See how sperm samples were taken during the fieldwork: https://vimeo.com/261999482.