Do you remember what you were doing on 3 May 2010? Jeffrey Lendrum does. He was wandering around Birmingham International Airport with the eggs of 14 rare peregrine falcons strapped to his stomach, which he’d recently pinched from a cliff in Wales, about to be apprehended by the police.
So begins Joshua Hammer’s new book The Falcon Thief, a thrilling and alarming story of the lengths Lendrum is willing to go to supply his wealthy clients in the Middle East with eggs, and the man out to stop him: Detective Andy McWilliam of the United Kingdom’s National Wildlife Crime Unit.
Hammer is a journalist by trade, and the book feels like an expertly crafted long-form article – one that you never want to stop reading. We jump around the world from Patagonia to Zimbabwe to the Welsh countryside, hanging out of helicopters and sneaking illegal eggs through multiple international borders alongside Lendrum, all the while driven by the same question that drives Hammer – why does he do it?
To understand this we venture back to 1970s Zimbabwe, then known as Rhodesia, when Lendrum was just a boy out with his father, hoodwinking the Rhodesian Ornithological Society into considering them trusted members of the bird-protecting community. It is the most extraordinary betrayal. Lendrum and his father learn the guarded secrets of rare raptor species’ breeding sites, only to go and pinch the eggs for themselves.
The level of Lendrum’s arrogance, combined with his blasé attitude toward risk (at one point the smuggled eggs hidden within his in-flight bag hatch and begin chirping, which he finds very amusing) is as baffling to read about as it is gripping to wait and see when he will be stopped by Detective McWilliam.
We also get important context into where the demand is coming from: the industry is driven by a surge in the sport of falcon racing in the Middle East. Though frustratingly, Lendrum never gives up the names of his buyers.
While Lendrum may be cultishly referred to as ‘the Pablo Escobar of the falcon egg trade’, this book is about much more than one man’s appalling sense of entitlement when it comes to the natural world. It holds a mirror up to our actions as a species and in Lendrum, disturbingly, you might just end up seeing yourself.