LONDON — A former special forces soldier was jailed Thursday for attempting to sneak out of Britain with a stash of 14 rare peregrine falcon eggs hidden in socks strapped to his body.
Jeffrey Lendrum, 48, was trying to get to Dubai, where falconry is a national sport and such eggs can fetch 5,000 pounds ($11,000) each on the black market. He was caught when a cleaner spotted him behaving suspiciously in a business class lounge at Birmingham International Airport on May 3.
Lendrum originally told police he was carrying store-bought chicken eggs, which he said he used to treat a bad back, but he pleaded guilty Thursday at Warwick Crown Court in western England, standing with his arms crossed and his head bowed for nearly the entire hearing.
Prized in falconry for their phenomenal speed — they are thought to reach up to 200 miles per hour when they dive — the birds are a protected species under British law, which bars their export.
Judge Christopher Hodson said Lendrum's crime hurt not only the local area "but in some measure to the planet and its future" and sentenced him to 30 months in jail.
Lendrum, an Irish citizen, has previous convictions for stealing rare eggs in Canada and Zimbabwe. A former member of the special forces of Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was known before its independence, he has apparently put his military training to use — at various points either rappelling down a cliff or lowering himself from a helicopter to reach particularly remote nests.
Guy Shorrock, with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said he believed Lendrum had been stealing eggs for years.
"It's clearly very lucrative," he said. "He has a very good buyer in the Middle East for these birds, and he probably receives tens of thousands of pounds (dollars) for his trouble."
Retired police officer Andy McWilliam, who worked on the case for the National Wildlife Crime Unit, said he was hoping to meet Lendrum behind bars to learn more about his tactics.
As for the eggs themselves, quick-thinking police made sure they were kept warm. Eleven out of the 14 have hatched, and most of the falcon chicks have since been returned to wild.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds' site on peregrine falcons: http://bit.ly/cLOK5I