Volunteers at Novosibirsk's Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre put trackers on 13 wild eagles to track their migration patterns; the trackers connected to cellular towers and message the researchers with the birds' location.
However, some of the eagles flew into territories with extremely high roaming charges — notably Iran and Pakistan — and the automated text-messages ran up a bill that exhausted the researchers' budget.
After a crowdfunding effort to "Top up the eagle's mobile" raised 100,000 roubles, the team's mobile carrier, Megafon, offered to wipe out the remaining debt and switch the team's SIMs to a cheaper plan.
20 years ago, at the dawn of wifi, I spent a week at a hotel in Walt Disney World (I was attending a training seminar and finishing my first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom). The hotel charged $0.25 for local calls, but my ISP, Earthlink, offered unlimited dialup. I came up with a clever solution: I brought along my Apple Airport device (which had a dialup modem) and set it to connect to Earthlink when we checked in, with the plan that it would stay connected for the next seven days and only incur a charge of $0.25 for the whole week's service.
But when I went to check out, the clerk had to go and fetch two extra reams of paper to print my bill. It turned out that the call to Earthlink had been dropped every 2-3 minutes for a week, and the modem in the Airport just kept on redialing. The total bill was over $3,000 for $0.25 local calls — though the hotel knocked it down to a mere $500.
Good to see that eagles are no smarter than I am.
The journey of one steppe eagle, called Min, was particularly expensive, as it flew to Iran from Kazakhstan.
Min accumulated SMS messages to send during the summer in Kazakhstan, but it was out of range of the mobile network. Unexpectedly the eagle flew straight to Iran, where it sent the huge backlog of messages.
The price per SMS in Kazakhstan was about 15 roubles (18p; 30 US cents), but each SMS from Iran cost 49 roubles. Min used up the entire tracking budget meant for all the eagles.