KUALA LUMPUR-Hundreds of birds being trafficked from Malaysia to Indonesia have died after smugglers threw them into the water when they were intercepted by the coast guard, an official said Wednesday. The birds, believed to mostly be a type of lark often sold as pets in Indonesia, were tossed into the sea in their cages by suspected traffickers as they were pursued Tuesday off the southwest coast of peninsular Malaysia. “The total number was 300 birds - only three have been saved,” Malaysian coast guard official Commander Azman Samsudin told AFP. “When the smugglers were chased by us, they threw the birds into the sea.” Four Indonesian suspects were arrested after the confrontation off Malaysia’s Selangor state in the Straits of Malacca, a busy shipping route that separates Malaysia from Indonesia’s Sumatra island.

The birds, believed to be mostly bush larks found across Southeast Asia, were thought to have been brought from Vietnam to Malaysia overland.

Azman said it was the first animal-smuggling attempt that officials had seen along the country’s southern coast in recent years.

Trafficking wild birds is rampant in Southeast Asia, with many making their way to Indonesia where it is popular to keep them as pets and pit them against one another in singing contests.

Wildlife smuggling is common in biodiverse Malaysia, with creatures from scaly pangolins to orangutans often targeted.