When a Polish research charity called EcoLogic Group placed a GPS tracker on the back of a white stork, they didn’t think much of it. After all, it’s become something of a routine practice used to track birds using such small devices. But things didn’t go as planned, and now they might have a big bill to take care of.
According to data from the GPS tracker, the stork traveled some 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometers) and was traced to the Blue Nile Valley in eastern Sudan, when contact was lost.
EcoLogic told the Super Express newspaper that somebody found the tracker in Sudan. As many of these trackers do, it features a SIM card. Someone in Sudan found the tracker, took the SIM card out, and made 20 hours worth of phone calls before the Polish charity realized what was going on. The organization has now received a bill of about 10,000 Polish zloty ($2,700), which they will have to pay from their own pockets.
It’s not clear what happened to the stork, and it’s also unclear if the Polish group can wiggle out of this unfortunate bill, given the unusual nature of the situation.
Tagging storks, like many other birds, enables researchers to understand their movement, behavior patterns, social habits, and threats. Subsequently, the data can also help devise better conservation policies. GPS tracker technology has proven invaluable in studying birds. The white stork is a social bird. Flocks of thousands of individuals have been recorded on migration routes and at wintering areas in Africa. Thanks to GPS trackers, biologists know that when they migrate between Europe and Africa, storks avoid crossing the Mediterranean Sea and detour via the Levant in the east or the Strait of Gibraltar in the west, because the air thermals on which they depend for soaring do not form over water.
White storks are not currently at risk, and they’re doing quite well in Poland. However, industrialization and the draining of wetlands pushed the iconic species towards extinction in Europe some 50 years ago. Thankfully, they’ve made an impressive comeback in recent years.