Jail for ‘Pablo Escobar’ of bird egg smuggling

The ‘Pablo Escobar’ of bird egg smuggling was jailed for just over three years after he was caught at Heathrow Airport with up to £100,000 worth of rare eggs strapped to his body.

Jeffrey Lendrum, 57, had 17 rare eggs of hawks, eagles and vultures taped to his chest and two chicks which had already hatched.

Lendrum, a former member of the Rhodesian SAS, had flown in from South Africa and explained he was on his way to customs to declare the contraband.

He insisted he brought the eggs into the country on June 26 last year to protect the birds because their natural habitat was being destroyed, Snaresbrook Crown Court heard.

But jailing Lendrum for three years and one month, Judge Neil Sanders told him: ‘The laws which recognise and the restriction on the trade of protected species are there for good reason, to protect the species in the wild.

‘In this case the chicks had to be hand-reared, making it impossible to return them to their habitat.’

Lendrum was jailed for 30 months in 2010 after he was caught trying to board a flight to Dubai with 14 peregrine falcon eggs taped to his stomach.

The joint Zimbabwe-Irish passport holder caught in Brazil with four albino falcon eggs stolen from Patagonia and jailed for four-and-a-half-years in October 2015.

But he fled Brazil when he was released on bail to appeal against his sentence.

Lendrum has always insisted that he was motivated by compassion and once told author Joshua Hammer: ‘The whole media has portrayed me as the Pablo Escobar of the falcon-egg trade.’

He claimed he brought the eggs into the country to protect the birds because their natural habitat was being destroyed.

But Sean Sullivan, prosecuting said Lendrum was motivated by greed and hoped to make a fortune selling the hatched birds.

‘He was illegally importing rare birds of prey in the UK.

‘He purposefully avoided the permit procedure.

‘He did so not out of any concern for the for their well-being, but for financial gain, that financial gain being significant.’

The court heart that once all the birds had hatched their estimated value would be between £80,000 and £100,000.

Mr Sullivan added: ‘There is a stark unlikelihood about the way in which he says he came into possession of the eggs.

‘He said someone involved in cutting their trees handed them to him because they had lost their habitat.’

Mr Sullivan told the court that most of those birds did not nest in the same habitat and Cape Vultures roost on cliffs.

Almost all of the eggs, who were handed to a bird of prey sanctuary, have now hatched.

One egg hatched while strapped to Lendrum’s chest and a second bird died three days after hatching.

The eggs were found to be five baby Fish Eagle eggs (Haliaeetus Vocifer), nine Black Sparrow Hawks (Accipiter Melanoleucus) and three Cape Vultures (Gyps Coprotheres) and two African Hawk Eagles (Aquilo Spilogaster).

Jemima Parry-Jones MBE, director of the International Centre for Birds of Prey, said most of the birds did not tend to live in the same type of habitat and Cape Vultures in particular nest on cliffs.

Asked whether there was a commercial market for them, Ms Parry-Jones said: ‘Yes, there is they are a lot more valuable than they used to be.

‘I have been staggered at the prices they fetch now, especially the vultures.

‘They are one of the most endangered birds in the entire world – the transport methods were not sensible.’

She added: ‘The eggs should have stayed where they were, if there was no risk they should have stayed in the nest.

‘If there was any risk or they moved them for any reason, they should have gone to a suitable rehabilitation centre in that country.

‘It was insane to bring them here.’

Lendrum told the court media attention following that conviction was so extensive that it led him to legally change his name to John Smith on 28 April 2017.

‘There are more hits on my name than the Yorkshire Ripper,’ he said.

Lendrum said growing up near the bush in what was then known as Rhodesia led him to develop a life-long fascination with wildlife, and birds in particular.

It also led to his first brush with the law when he was fined £500 for possessing eggs of an endangered species without a permit in 1984.

Explaining why he fled his four and a half year sentence in Brazil he said: ‘My lawyer said look, unofficially, you being a gringo, you will not last in prison.

‘Leave the country.

‘I was quite sick and decided to do what he said.’

Anthony Bell, defending, said Lendrum has prostate cancer. ‘He is 57, as you know his health is not the best.

‘He has been working, the last time he went to prison, as an orderly on the segregation wing, a trusted position due to the nature of the work.’

Mr Bell added that while the eggs were removed from their habitat, mortality rate for birds in the wild were high.

‘They are now available for breeding in captivity programs which there might not have been had they stayed in South Africa,’ he added.

‘They may be better off where they are.’

Lendrum, who lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, admitted four counts of evasion of a restriction.

He was given 37 months jail on each count, to be served concurrently.

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