Scientists run up a lot of expenses when they’re on the road tracking wildlife — everything from hotel rooms to meals cost a lot these days, let alone the salary range these experts usually command.
Generally speaking, it’s the specialists themselves who cost the most, not the animals, birds or sea creatures the teams are tracking; those are usually the least expensive item on a monthly expense sheet.
But recently, eagles in Russia seem determined to spend lavish amounts of their watchers’ budget, simply by doing what they do best — soaring through the skies.
The scientists on their trail — volunteering their time — were following the energetic birds as they left their base in Siberia, headed for Kazakhstan and southern Russia.
The volunteer team is from the Wildlife Animal Rehabilitation Centre in Novosibirsk, and they were hoping to learn about the birds’ annual migration patterns.
The group works in conjunction with the Russian Raptor Research & Conservation Network. These eagles are called “Steppe” eagles, and their very existence is at risk .
Suddenly, however, one eagle made a detour, a significant one that resulted in the whole project nearly being scrapped, at least temporarily.
The eagles’ ankles were equipped with GPS tracking devices that allowed the team to monitor their progress without actually following them — a common enough technique used by wildlife scientists the world over.
However, the roaming charges for this unanticipated trip were then charged to the team’s account with a cell phone company in Russia, Megafon.
One of the eagles, named Min, might as well have been flying first class, as she flew from Russia to Iran, a distance of some 3,000 miles, at a cost of 49 roubles per mile.
Because Min flew into regions where no cell coverage exists, a whack of messages were stored, then released, all with roaming charges.
The incredible journey wound up costing the Centre tens of thousands of roubles, the budget allotted to the whole project. Naturally, this did not go over well with officials, who were not amused, and grounded the errant eagles the very same day.
Researcher Elena Schneider told the independent that, “She (Min) sent us, (all at once), hundreds of SMSs with her summer locations,,,spending the entire collective (phone) budget for our eagles.”
In total, the team tracks 13 of the endangered birds, who are at risk because of power lines and things that lie directly in their flight paths.
Not to be dissuaded from their research, the group launched a crowd funding page to help with what Schneider called “astronomical” phone bills, and successfully raised more than 100,000 roubles to pay toward the debt.
The social media campaign was called, “Top Up The Eagle’s Mobile,” and people responded in droves.
And even the mobile phone company, Megafon, got in on helping with the bills; the company cancelled the remaining debt, and even allowed the team to switch to a plan that would be far less expensive, should any other eagle take off for parts unknown.
Studying and tracking the Steppe eagles is a worthy pursuit, but a bird’s very nature deems it will be unpredictable work.
After all, even once the birds are equipped with tracking devices, it’s impossible to know for certain whether they will follow their usual migration paths. Min is a perfect example of a bird going its own way, much to the frustration of her followers.
The organization explained in a recent blog post that telling the world about Min’s errant ways was a wonderful way to launch the crowd funding campaign, as well as interest people in the fate of the majestic birds.
Once Min’s story went viral, however, all turned out well, and the birds’ minders raised more funds than they dared hope. For once, a story about man and beast — well, in this case, bird — turned out to favour the creatures.
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A triumph of good will and collective effort will allow Min and her fellow birds to keep flying, and the scientists to remain on their tails.