Polish environmental group EcoLogic didn’t think twice about placing a GPS tracker on a male white stork. The practice is fairly routine: track Poland’s white storks while they embark on their annual 6,000-kilometer (3700-mile) migration to Africa. The results this year, however, were shocking both to the team and their wallets.
That’s because the SIM-chip transmitter attached to a stork named Kajtek racked up a $2,700 phone bill.
The researchers were tracking Kajtek’s movements and posting his journey online before they lost signal on April 26. His last known location placed him at the Blue Nile region in Sudan. EcoLogic told Super Express it’s unlikely the bird is still alive, and even more unlikely that he was placing the phone calls. They assume someone found the tracker and placed the sim card in their phone, making some 20 calls before the team realized it.
White storks, which are found in the Eastern Hemisphere, spend their summers in Europe and their winters in Africa. Their biannual migration can cover a distance of as much as 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) with the help of thermal updrafts. The team started tracking Kajtek last August.
Earlier this year, a couple of white storks made headlines when one Croatian duo’s ornithological love affair went viral, highlighting a male stork named Klepetan's arrival home to return to his mate of 16 years. His partner, Malena, has to forego her annual migration because of a disability resulting from a shot by a hunter. She lives with her caretaker, and Klepetan comes home to her every year – a man that flies thousands of miles just to be with his gal? That’s commitment.
Malena and Klepetan’s love affair is one example of the role tagging storks plays in the environmental research and conservation of migratory birds. This data helps scientists understand their habits, social behaviors, and threats.
The white stork is not at risk, but one of its biggest threats are to their habitat. Industrialization and draining of wetlands pushed it towards near-extinction in Europe 50 years ago. Today, it is a species of least concern under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Its extremely large range places the bird all over West and East Europe as well as Africa. Its large population size continues to increase with half-a-million pairs calling Europe home, and more than 700,000 worldwide.
EcoLogic doesn’t know who made the calls, and they say it’s likely they’ll have to pay for the expenses out of their own pockets.
[H/T: ZME Science]