Like any other profession in the world, research can also cause a person to go broke. But a group of Russian researchers went broke for a very unusual reason. They were 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 Centre in Novosibirsk was doing a research on steppe eagles (Aquila nipalensis). They were keeping tabs on the movement of these birds using trackers that sent text messages back to the researchers, according to a post by the group on Russian social media.
Every year many of these eagles head south for the winter and spend a lot of time around Kazakhstan in a region that has no cell phone coverage. The researchers prepared for the same this year, thinking that the text messages would just pile up and get sent once the birds come back to Russia or Kazakhstan and the trackers find cell signal again. But their plan went wrong.
Instead of returning to Russia, many of these eagles migrated further south into Iran and Pakistan, where data roaming charges are sky high, costing around $0.80 per message. Hundreds of accumulated messages transmitted from these locations, landing the scientists with a hefty phone bill. Penniless, the researchers resorted to a crowdfunding appeal. Remarkably, this worked and they were able to cover most of the outstanding bills.
Russian mobile operator Megafon also lent a hand. They scraped many of the expenses gathered in Iran and 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 Centre said in a VK (a popular social media platform in Russia) post. "How this happened is simply unbelievable!"
The situation taken care of, the researchers went back to 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 Peninsula, and south Asia for much of the year.
According to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre live tracking map, 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.
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 declining, primarily due to habitat changes from agriculture and infrastructure.