A TEAM of Russian twitchers have been left with a huge bill after its subjects went unexpectedly AWOL.
The researchers, volunteers from the Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre in Novosibirsk, had been studying the movements of a group of Steppe Eagles, an endangered species native to Russia.
However, when the birds started straying into foreign climes, the GPS trackers on their collars began to run up huge roaming charges as data was transmitted back to base.
One eagle, Min, managed to spend the entire budget single-wingedly, as she had a backlog of messages on her collar stretching back through most of the summer season. These were triggered to send whilst Min was flying over Iran, meaning that each one cost 49 roubles (60p) instead of 15 roubles (18p). It's thought that 'hundreds' of messages were all sent at once, on an Iranian network.
The twitchers had started a crowdfunding campaign called "Top up the eagles' mobile" and had already raised over 100,000 roubles (about £1,223) towards what was called 'astronomical' charges.
It sounds like a win, but that figure is a fraction of the total bill. Or total beak if you prefer.
Fortunately, when Russian carrier Megafon heard the sorry tale, it scrubbed the charges and found a more inclusive tariff for the birds.
It's hoped that with their financial situation stabilised, the volunteers will be able to carry on monitoring 13 Steppe Eagles which usually roost in Southern Russia and Kazakhstan after summers in Siberia.
Although the story has a happy ending, we can't help wondering what the team expected. Siberia is huge and largely barren, and the likelihood of having blanket mobile coverage in an unpopulated area is about zero squared.
Even if there's some coverage, it may not have been Megafon's. That's one of the reasons the UK is working on a programme of national roaming for rural areas.
There's no denying though - applying the same model in Russia would be seriously complicated. In fact, it's probably one for the birds. μ
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