A Russian research project involving migratory eagles was
nearly bankrupted by massive roaming charges after the birds crossed over into
Iran. As data bills for the tracking devices on the birds quickly ate up the study’s
funds, the research team explained their plight on social media in an appeal
for donations. The team has raised about $1,500 so far.
The research study being conducted by the Russian Raptors
Research and Conservation Network (RRRCN) was monitoring the flight paths and
habitats of the endangered steppe eagle. The 13 eagles in the study were being
tracked by solar-powered GPS units that would send data back to the scientists
by standard text message. Four messages are sent per bird for each day of
tracking at typical cost of three and 23 cents per SMS message. The team then
uses satellite photos to see if the birds have reached safe locations.
The problem arose when an eagle named Min took a detour into
an area without mobile coverage, meaning her messages were held back for four
months. The next area the bird entered with mobile coverage was in Iran, nearly
3,000 miles away. When the mobile network communication was reestablished, the
tracking device sent all of the stored GPS data at once. Because the eagle was
out of the coverage range, roaming charges were added to all of the messages,
increasing the cost to 77 cents per message.
When combined with roaming charges from three other birds
who ventured into Iraq and Pakistan, the bills were more than the scientists
could afford. After learning of the team’s dilemma, Russian mobile phone
operator Megafon offered to cancel the debt and put the project on a special,
cheaper deal. The team now says they have the funds to pay for the birds’ texting
until the end of the year.