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The Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passions of the World's Greatest Reptile Smugglers Paperback – Bargain Price, August 5, 2009

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Editorial Reviews Review

Reptile smuggling is big business, and in his book debut, Brian Christy mounts an intense and highly readable investigation into this unique black market's surprising depths. Besides the reptiles themselves, this exciting narrative investigation focuses on two main protagonists: Michael Van Nostrand, a notorious dealer; and Chip Bepler, the Fish and Wildlife Service agent whose single-minded aim was to bring the former to justice. --Jason Kirk --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Albino pythons, endangered lizards and other reptiles are the currency of an underworld as dangerous and lucrative as the drug trade. Freelance writer Christy's debut is an enthusiastic but scattered chronicle of the rise and fall of a lizard kingpin and the federal agent who pursued him. Mike Van Nostrand inherited Strictly Reptiles, an import-export business in Florida, from his father, Ray, turning it into a multimillion-dollar smuggling operation. Van Nostrand imported reptiles of all shapes and sizes, usually concealed in the suitcases or clothing of his mules, and sold them to collectors and pet stores. He exploited loopholes in the international treaty on endangered-species trade and paid off corrupt officials. In the early 1990s, Fish and Wildlife Services agent Chip Bepler set his sights on Van Nostrand. After Bepler's years of surveillance and hard work, Van Nostrand was sentenced to eight months in prison, his export license revoked, and Strictly Reptiles was forced to pay $250,000 in fines to a wildlife fund. Christy's frenetic approach—bouncing from Mike's smuggling to young Ray catching snakes to the neglect of wildlife crime prosecution—is disorienting in what could have been a fascinating tale. (Aug. 1) ""
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Twelve; 1 Reprint edition (August 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446699756
  • ASIN: B003XU7WGY
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,496,536 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bryan Christy was born in a U.S. military hospital in Germany. He wrote his first snake story in second grade, and later won a college prize for a story about his pet Burmese python, Socrates. Socrates got him into law school. He attended Penn State, Cornell, University of Michigan Law School, and was a Fulbright Scholar, University of Tokyo Law School. Before becoming a professional writer, he practiced international law in Washington, DC.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 36 people found the following review helpful By William B. Love on August 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The author did his homework on this one! As someone who's been around the business and many of its key players from the 1970s through the present, I marveled at the accuracy of most statements in this account. The numbers regarding quantities of animals and amounts of money seemed well-researched, realistic and largely believable, unlike the trumped-up crap that groups like the HSUS and PETA push to increase sympathy donations. The author's whole approach seemed out to record the real personalities, not mass media baloney exaggerated to make news and sell books. I particularly liked his 'as it was' style and non-demonization of the principles.

This book will be enjoyed by those involved in the herp trade in any way. Devout conservationists will probably applaud it as an exposé, but its strength lies in its honesty and facts. I hope everyone notes the sentence credited to U.S. Fish & Wildlife agent Chip Bepler on page 79:

"He (Bepler) could not do much against habitat destruction, pollution, or any of the other amorphous problems facing wildlife, but he could do something about commercial profiteers." ----- That statement summarizes the major mentality in the U.S. on dealing with the issue of helping / protecting wildlife. The prevailing attitude is to do what makes headlines, ensures budgets and justifies your job, even if it's a drop in the bucket toward solving the real problem. With government money wasted by the millions on such a sham, it's no wonder that a few people will be disgusted and continue smuggling while feeling that they too deserve to profit from wildlife.

The funny thing is, most of the species discussed in this book were smuggled in low numbers -- sometimes just a few pairs -- that did nothing to hurt wild populations.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By W. Fenton on November 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
"The Lizard King" is a gripping tale that takes readers into the subterranean world of reptile smuggling. The book features a fascinating cast of characters, ranging from bold, brash smuggling kingpins to the honorable men and women of the law who pursue them against great odds. Lay readers will learn a wealth of information about the world of legitimate reptile collecting and the seamy underworld of reptile smuggling. The scale of both is eye-opening. Thanks to gaping holes in the laws governing reptile importation and the high level of demand among legitimate and illegitimate collectors for exotic species, smuggling of protected and endangered animals has been relatively easy and tremendously lucrative. The odds are stacked against government agents who have made it their life's work to protect these beautiful and rare species.

Author Bryan Christy is to be commended for his voluminous research. It is always a pleasure to discover a book that opens up a world previously unknown to a reader. He also deserves credit for the courage it took to gain access to some of the smuggling world's most powerful players so that he could authenticate facts for his story. I found the subject matter deeply engaging throughout.

Christy also shows skill in assuming a neutral tone in describing the exploits of both the smugglers and the lawmen who are trying to bring them to justice. He tells the story from both points of view so the reader understands the thinking of both sides. Although some readers may feel that his narrative stance should be one of moral outrage toward the smugglers, I found his objectivity to be a more effective tone. It drew from me a feeling of revulsion toward the smugglers and elicited my admiration for the government agents pursuing them.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By W. Paul W. on February 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
1st--I'm amazed to see Bill Love commenting on a reptile book. It'd be like seeing Jimmy Hendrix commenting on someone's guitar album.

I've been keeping reptiles since I was 12 or 13, and I remember some of these events, and characters. When I was an adolescent, Strictly Reptile's nickname was Sickly Reptiles...that place had a distinctly unsavory reputation attached to it (apparently it's back in business and I'm unaware of any improvement in it's rep). The author mostly avoids demonizing people--even the Nostrands. The subject is treated fairly well, but I was disappointed that the author didn't delve into the mortality rate of the seized animals. One thing that's always angered me about USFW is the fate of far too many animals taken in the course of an investigation. They mostly die, in large part due to the fact there's not a good enough network in place to care for them. USFW hypes itself on protecting endangered species, but the animals they seize don't seem to fare well under their care, which is a depressing irony.

The saga of strictly's is fairly well known, as is the busting of Wong (which I found hysterical) but it's good to have it all written down in one place, and I appreciate the mostly even handed treatment that the author gives the subject. I just wish the writing were clearer--timelines can jump around, as can focus, particularly in the earlier chapters. The characters are odd, and sympathetic at times, even the bad guys. Black and white simplicity is eschewed in favor of a more detailed approach to both the criminals and the LEOs and agencies, something refreshing.
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