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‘Our ballot box has been stuffed’: Cheating scandal rocks Fat Bear Week

All is fair in love and war – sure. But what about in Fat Bear Week?

An online competition to find the bear that best “exemplifies fatness” in an Alaskan national park recently crowned its 2022 champion – bear 747. 

But it wasn’t all fun and games.

Katmai National Park’s 2022 Fat Bear Week had it all – unexpected intrigue, misconduct, a quick rescue and finally, a happy ending for a winner we can all get behind (literally). It was even rocked by a cheating scandal.

Plot twist

The claims of cheating in the previously innocent tournament came when the online voting ballot box was compromised by bots and spam votes.

Organisers at Katmai National Park revealed voting had been rigged, in favour of 747’s adversary, Holly the brown bear, also known as 435.

“Like bears stuff their face with fish, our ballot box, too, has been stuffed,” Katmai National Park tweeted.

“It appears someone has decided to spam the Fat Bear Week poll, but fortunately it is easy for us to tell which votes are fraudulent. We have discarded the fake votes and today’s official totals are:

747: 37,940

435: 30,430,” the park tweeted. 

Suspicions were aroused when Holly got a whopping 9000 more votes very quickly in the semi-finals, overtaking 747 and rocketing her to the top of the leader chart.

The organisers, however, were quick to pick up on the irregularity, and proceeded to discard the fraudulent votes.

So, what is Fat Bear Week?

The competition, run by explore.org, sparked the interest of the public back in 2014 and has since become quite the internet sensation with finalists earning tens of thousands of votes.

Run ahead of the northern winter, the annual competition invites participants to vote on brown bears that have gained the most weight between the northern summer and autumn.

During their bulking season between late June and mid October, the bears feast on salmon and other foods available at the Brooks River.

They do this in preparation for their hibernation during wintertime when they don’t eat or drink and can lose a third of their body weight, according to explore.org. 

The organisers of the weighty competition describe Fat Bear Week as “completely subjective”.

Voters are encouraged to make their choice based on whatever reason they see fit, be it growth spurts, age, extenuating circumstances or quite simply, which bear is the fattest.

Fat Bear Week

The annual competition asks people to choose their favourite fat bear. Photo: Twitter/Katmai National Park

Clear the runway for the 2022 champion

This year’s winner shares his identification number with a plane, and that’s no misnomer.

One of the largest brown bears on Earth, weighing in at 646 kilograms, 747 is said to be Katmai’s most commanding bear.

No stranger to the title, he was also crowned the 2020 Fat Bear Week champion.

The road to his 2022 victory was not without its battles, but a victory nonetheless.

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