Endangered steppe eagles being tracked by Russian scientists flew so far that they ate up project costs with expensive text messages intended to keep researchers apprised of their whereabouts.
The birds were outfitted with GPS trackers that texted their location coordinates via a cell phone network to scientists from the Russian Raptor Research and Conservation Network.
If the birds flew out of cell-phone range, their texts weren’t supposed tot send until they were back in a Russian service area. During the study, most of the eagles summered in Kazakhstan in a region without cell service, and the accumulated outgoing text messages eventually came through as the birds again flew through Russia.
But some of the birds, specifically one named Min and three others, instead flew to Iran and Pakistan, where their devices connected to cell phone service — which cost steep roaming fees, according to a post on Russian social media service VK.
“These beasts were out of range in Kazakhstan all summer and now once they reached the super expensive Iran and Pakistan, they are spewing out hundreds of text messages with their locations,” scientist Igor Karyakin explained on VK, according to Agence France-Presse.
The budget was “completely exhausted.”
But the researchers had a brainstorm and launched a crowdfunding campaign to “top up” the birds’ cell phone accounts for the year, according to AFP.
Min has since become a “good boy,” one researcher told The Telegraph. “About a week ago he left Iran and went to Saudi Arabia where it’s cheaper.”
Steppe eagles — with wingspans up to seven feet — breed in southern Russia and Kazakhstan, and tend to spend winter in Africa and India. Their numbers have plummeted due to farming and wind turbines.