A Russian research group was left penniless after a group of eagles they were remotely monitoring flew in an area with no cell service and cost them a small fortune in data roaming charges.
The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Novosibirsk was keeping tabs on the movement of steppe eagles (Aquila nipalensis) using trackers that send text messages back to the researchers, according to a post by the group on Russian social media.
Just as they do every year, many of the eagles headed south for the winter, spending time around Kazakhstan in a region with no cell phone coverage. The researchers foresaw this happening, however, they assumed the accumulated messages would simply be sent once they entered back into Russia or a region of Kazakhstan with cell signal.
Unfortunately, many of the eagles migrated further south into Iran and Pakistan where data roaming charges are sky-high, costing around 49 roubles ($0.80) per message. Hundreds of the accumulated unsent messages were then transmitted from these locations, landing the scientists with a hefty phone bill.
Strapped for cash, the researchers launched a crowdfunding appeal that remarkably managed to cover most of the outstanding bills. Russian mobile operator Megafon came to lend a helping hand too. Not only did they scrap many of the expenses gathered in Iran, but they also developed a special tariff for the eagles.
“The money collected is now enough to pay for SMS messages not only before the end of the year, but also until the end of the migration! That is, until spring – until April,” the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center said in a VK post. “How this happened is simply unbelievable!”
Now the researchers can get back to what they do best: studying steppe eagles.
Female steppe eagles are larger than the males, and can weigh between 2.3 and 3.9 kilograms (5 and 9 pounds) and have a wingspan of up to 2 meters. They typically breed along the south Russian and Central Asian steppes, but they’re known to migrate as far as Africa, the Arabian Penisula, and south Asia for much of the year.
As you can see on the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center live tracking map (above), the eagles tended to gather around the vast rocky deserts of Central Asia, with a few individuals making movements southwards. Most ended up in Pakistan. However, one individual settled in Yemen, while another reached as far as Sudan.
This bird of prey is the species of eagle that appears on the flag of Kazakhstan. Despite their cultural significance, the steppe eagle is an endangered species, according to the IUCN Red List. While there are an estimated 50,000 to 75,000 mature adults in the wild, these numbers are quickly sliding, primarily due to changes to their habitat from agriculture and infrastructure.