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.