Scientist Breaks Bank With Data Roaming Charges While Tracking Eagles

Grace Higgins | February 20th, 2020

Local scientists in Russia were busy researching the migrating patterns and habits of the Russian eagles. Unfortunately for them they did not expect the eagles to decide on some of the birds deciding they wanted a vacation in Iran and Pakistan. The SMS transmitters they had attached to the birds suddenly incurred huge data roaming charges.

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One bird who is a steppe eagle known as Min, decided who would rack up the bill and flew from Southern Russia to Kazakhstan via Iran. What happened was Min racked up a huge backlog of SMS messages when the bird was out of network range in Kazakhstan. The eagle then very unexpectedly flew straight into Iran, where the huge backlog of messages were sent.

In Kazakhstan the price of an SMS is just 15 roubles, which is around 30 US cents, but as soon as Min went into Iran the charges went up to 49 roubles per message. In a matter of hours the bird used up the research team’s tracking budget that was intended for all of the birds. Now the researchers were volunteers at the Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre in Novosibirsk, so they did not have a big budget to begin with.

One solution was the open up a crowdfunding appeal to the public, which they aptly named: Top Up the Eagle’s mobile. This kind of worked and they were able to raise 100,000 roubles but there was still a hefty bill to pay. Luckily for the team Megafon, Russia’s biggest mobile carrier, got wind of what was going on and offered to cancel their debt. They also switched the scientists over to a mobile plan that made more sense.

This was great news for the team, as their SMS messages deliver the bird’s coordinates as they migrate which allows the team to take satellite photos and confirm if the birds are in safe locations. Power lines are the main problem which cause many eagle deaths every year, the eagle is an endangered species in Russia and Central Asia.

With Megafon’s help the research team has been able to continue saving eagles.

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