Russian researchers tracking migrating eagles using GPS collars ran out of funding after some of their birds flew to Iran and Pakistan, which saw their devices incur massive data roaming charges.
The team turned to social media to try and pay off the substantial debt, however, after learning of their predicament Russian mobile phone operator Megafon offered to cancel the debt, and to put their project on a cheaper tariff.
All the birds in the study are tagged with collars that feedback their coordinates via SMS message as they migrate. The team then use satellite images to see if the birds have reached a safe location. Power lines are a particular threat to the birds, steppe eagles, which are endangered in Russia and Central Asia.
One of the eagles, named Min, ran up the highest bill by covering a distance of 3,000 miles from Kazakhstan to Iran. The birds breed in Siberia and Kazakhstan, but fly to South Asia for the winter.
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During in the summer in Kazakhstan, Min accumulated a number of SMS messages over a period of four months that had failed to send as they were out of range. When Min flew unexpectedly to Iran, the backlog of messages were sent all at once and the resulting bill used up the entire tracking budget meant for all the eagles.
Researcher Elena Schneider said: “She sent us (all at once) hundreds of expensive SMSs with her summer locations…spending the entire collective (phone) budget for our eagles.”
The price per SMS in Kazakhstan was about 15 roubles (18p), but each SMS from Iran cost 49 roubles. The researchers, who are volunteers at the Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre in Novosibirisk, were able to pay off more than 100,000 roubles (£1,223) via their crowdfunding appeal, which was called “Top up the eagle’s mobile.”
Megafon’s support means the team will be able to continue tracking the 13 birds’ routes and collecting vital data to help their survival.