Indonesian air force pilots face parrot smuggling probe

Galahs in Australia
Image caption Although galahs are common in Australia, they can still command big prices if sold alive on East Asian markets

Two Indonesian air force pilots are being investigated for allegedly trying to smuggle at least seven valuable Australian parrots into Indonesia, military officials say.

The parrots were found on board a Hercules transport aircraft being handed over by Australia to Indonesia.

Indonesian military authorities told the BBC that the pair were now being questioned over the incident.

Parrots can be sold in Indonesia for thousands of dollars, experts say.

The two crewmen were in a group of Indonesians being trained by the Royal Australian Air Force to fly Hercules transport aircraft, Australian media reports said.

Nine of the aircraft are being handed over to Indonesia despite diplomatic tensions earlier this month over reports that Australia's Jakarta embassy was used as part of a US-led spying network in Asia.

Reports say that the two pilots were caught red-handed loading the parrots, including five galahs, onto the plane. They were reportedly hidden in bags.

Galahs are a type of pink-breasted cockatoo found in Australia.

Another two parrots were allegedly found on board when the plane stopped in Darwin to refuel while travelling to Jakarta.

The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service issued a statement saying that it "has very strong laws to protect our wildlife against illegal activity and [we] take any attempt to breach those laws seriously".

Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison was later quoted by local media as saying that the pair were let off by Australia with a warning after consultations with federal prosecutors.

However, Indonesian authorities told the BBC that the two pilots were being extensively questioned about the incident now they had returned home.

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