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Malaysia to charge soldiers over Hornbill killing

KUALA LUMPUR, April 4, 2011 (AFP) - Five Malaysian soldiers on anti-poaching duty face criminal charges after Facebook pictures appeared of them posing with a dead, endangered Great Pied Hornbill bird.

Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the group was part of a force protecting the Royal Belum-Temengor rainforest in the northern state of Perak, when they came across the bird which had been shot by a hunter.

"The bird fell to the ground and upon seeing the dying bird, they slaughtered it," he told state media late Sunday.

He said the five, including an officer, had been suspended and would be charged under the country's wildlife laws.

He did not elaborate but an officer with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks told AFP Monday: "An investigation is still ongoing."

Ahmad Zahid said that although the soldiers were not responsible for shooting the bird, they should have tried to save it rather than killing and posing with it.

The pictures were uploaded onto one of the soldiers' Facebook profile pages and were distributing widely, causing public outrage and the defence ministry to investigate, according to Perak state government news portal Perak News.

It said the soldiers involved were assigned to anti-poaching and anti-smuggling duties in the protected forest, which lies in the border area between Thailand and Malaysia and is home to more than 14 endangered species.

"Isn't it suspicious that a hunter killed the bird when the area is supposed to be protected?" Perak wildlife activist Nabilla Ravina told AFP.

"Here we are thinking that Malaysian wildlife which are on the brink of extinction are very safe and happy in Belum under military protection, but incidents like this make one wonder who the real poachers are," she said.

The Great Pied Hornbill is found in the rainforests of India, Malaysia and Indonesia. The bird's impressive size and plumage have made it an important part of tribal culture and rituals.

Hornbill numbers have declined perilously owing to habitat loss and poaching. Their trade or sale is illegal under the UN's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Relevant offences under Malaysia's Wildlife Conservation Act carry a maximum fine of 50,000 ringgit ($16,500) and/or imprisonment of up to two years.

MySinchew 2011.04.04



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