Eagle-Sized Roaming Charges

Steppe eagle (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In case you missed it …

Steppe eagles (Aquila nipalensis), pictured above, breed on the steppes of Eurasia and spend the winter in Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, India or Southeast Asia, passing through Central Asia on their way south.

Range of steppe eagle (map from Wikimedia Commons)

Steppe eagles are endangered in Russia and Central Asia, threatened by persecution and power lines which they encounter on migration so the Russian Raptor Research and Conservation Network has fitted 13 of them with cell-enabled backpacks to track their paths. They plan to mitigate the most dangerous locations frequented by eagles.

The tracking backpacks send four text messages a day with date, time and the eagles’ GPS coordinates. If the bird is far from the cell network, the tracker stores the data until the eagle gets near a tower.

Steppe eagle in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

This method worked well in 2018 because most of the eagles traveled near the Russian cell network. This year, however, an eagle named Min spent the summer far from the network in a remote part of Kazakhstan. Her backpack stored months of data that it couldn’t transmit until she flew near a cell tower in Iran (map below).

Approximate route of Min in Fall 2019, inexpertly drawn by Kate St. John on a map from Pinterest

In October the researchers were stunned to receive a cellphone invoice with eagle-sized roaming charges. They’d budgeted 15 roubles/message but roaming in Iran is 49 roubles/message. In just one texting session Min used up the entire year’s budget for all the eagles!

What to do? They set up a crowd-funding appeal that raised more than enough to cover this year’s charges (100,000 roubles) and Russia’s Megafon network offered to cover the cost, too. So the project is saved.

Learn more about the steppe eagles’ migration and roaming charges here on the BBC. Follow the steppe eagles’ saga at the Russian Raptor Research and Conservation Network.

Click on the map below to see where the eagles have migrated in the past two years.

p.s. What is 100,000 worth in U.S. dollars? About $1,560.

(photos and range map from Wikimedia Commons, Min’s hand-drawn route on map from Pinterest, steppe eagles’ migration map from Russian Raptor Research and Conservation Network. Click on the captions to see the originals)

NOTES: Steppes are prairies or scrubland similar to the Great Plains and Great Basin of North America. Steppe eagles face an additional threat: Because they eat carrion they are dying of diclofenac, just as vultures are.

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