The Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passions of the World's Greatest Reptile Smugglers

Overview

Imagine The Sopranos, with snakes! The Lizard King is a fascinating account of a father and son family business suspected of smuggling reptiles, and the federal agent who tried to take them down.


When Bryan Christy began to investigate the world of reptile smuggling, he had no idea what he would be in for. In the course of his research, he was bitten between the eyes by a blood python, chased by a mother ...

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Overview

Imagine The Sopranos, with snakes! The Lizard King is a fascinating account of a father and son family business suspected of smuggling reptiles, and the federal agent who tried to take them down.


When Bryan Christy began to investigate the world of reptile smuggling, he had no idea what he would be in for. In the course of his research, he was bitten between the eyes by a blood python, chased by a mother alligator, and sprayed by a bird-eating tarantula. But perhaps more dangerous was coming face to face with Michael J. Van Nostrand, owner of Strictly Reptiles, a thriving family business in Hollywood, Florida. Van Nostrand imports as many as 300,000 iguanas each year (over half the total of America's most popular imported reptile), as well as hundreds of thousands of snakes, lizards, frogs, spiders, and scorpions.

Van Nostrand was suspected of being a reptile smuggler by Special Agent Chip Bepler of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who devoted years of his life in an obsessive quest to expose The Lizard King's cold-blooded crimes. How this cat-and-mouse game ended is engrossing and surprising.

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Editorial Reviews

Playboy
"Who knew the world of reptile smuggling was as high stakes and character rich as an Elmore Leonard novel? Christy dives headlong into this subterranean world where a white python can fetch $100,000 ... The tactics of reptile smugglers recall those of drug criminals-falsifying documents, laundering funds. [THE LIZARD KING] emphasizes our enduring fascination with the cold-blooded. FOUR BUNNIES!"
Booklist
"Who knew the world of reptile smuggling was so poisonous? ... Set in the mid-1990s, [The Lizard King] is reminiscent of the film version of Frank W. Abagnale's Catch Me if You Can: the determined lawman, the flamboyant scofflaw, the eventual showdown. Christy takes us deep inside the world of the smuggler... An exciting story of smugglers, lawmen, corrupt government officials, organized crime, and slithery beasts."
Janet Maslin
THE LIZARD KING is a wild, woolly, finny, feathery and scaly account of animal smuggling on a grand scale, in a weird world so expansive that a few hundred stray snakes and turtles amount to peanuts.. . . Mr. Christy's entertaining book is about the crooks, swashbucklers and drug kingpins who constitute the underbelly of the reptile-dealing world . . . [The Lizard King] has a tangle of smugglers, agents, breeders and highly colorful minor players (like the tiger-purchasing Miami gangster who sounds like the prototype for "Scarface") with stories to tell . . . By the time THE LIZARD KING has escalated to describing the bear-gallbladder trade, it is rich with memorable moments.
New York Times
Alexandra Fuller
"Bryan Christy has fulfilled his contract as a writer on all counts; in this impassioned, noirish, funny, ruthlessly researched masterpiece he has, with a poet's soul, given vioce to the voiceless, shown us a world we could not otherwise explore on our own, and borne witness to the careless mentality of our collecting, consuming culture. This is The Orchid Thief, with fangs."
Janet Maslin - New York Times
"THE LIZARD KING is a wild, woolly, finny, feathery and scaly account of animal smuggling on a grand scale, in a weird world so expansive that a few hundred stray snakes and turtles amount to peanuts.. . . Mr. Christy's entertaining book is about the crooks, swashbucklers and drug kingpins who constitute the underbelly of the reptile-dealing world . . . [The Lizard King] has a tangle of smugglers, agents, breeders and highly colorful minor players (like the tiger-purchasing Miami gangster who sounds like the prototype for "Scarface") with stories to tell . . . By the time THE LIZARD KING has escalated to describing the bear-gallbladder trade, it is rich with memorable moments."
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.
Kirkus Reviews
Cold-blooded illegal immigrants, from $30 pet-store iguanas to $10,000 albino snakes, creep and crawl through freelance journalist Christy's thorough exploration of the far-flung illicit-reptile trade. Covering with equal aplomb the intricacies of both endangered-species history and international law, the author details the intersecting trajectories of Mike Van Nostrand, a major-league reptile smuggler, and his nemesis, Chip Bepler of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 1992, newly relocated rookie Bepler was dispatched to investigate a captured shipment of turtles smuggled into Miami. Van Nostrand's dubious wholesale outfit, Strictly Reptiles, was almost certainly the final destination of those turtles, but proving it was another matter. The case launched Bepler's career obsession: capturing a fleet kingpin who through legal loopholes continuously outfoxed Fish and Wildlife. While exploring the human passions of both smugglers and their law-enforcement counterparts, globetrotting Christy introduces us to a colorful, if seedy cast of characters. It includes Malaysia's Anson Wong, "the Pablo Escobar of the live reptile trade," and Henry Molt, "the godfather of American reptile smuggling," who began importing in the early 1960s when the reptile fad took root. Fad eventually exploded into frenzy with the 1993 release of Jurassic Park, whose big bad reptiles (somewhat counter-intuitively) sparked an "iguana craze." Pet iguanas flourished, and reptiles of all kinds became the fetish of hobbyists and breeders of every stripe; the craze spawned crossbreeding, designer reptile fashions and a multimillion dollar trade in rare species, many threatened by extinction. The author illuminates thetrade's clever tricks: boarding planes with socks full of baby snakes lining pant legs, secret luggage compartments, laundering animals through second countries to avert the law, and more. Somewhat thin on dialogue and heavy on hearsay, this riveting volume nonetheless captures in vibrant prose the dynamic personalities and habits of its human and reptilian subjects. Agent: Jennifer Joel/ICM
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446699754
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 8/5/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.28 (w) x 8.04 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Meet the Author

Bryan Christy earned a bachelor's degree from Pennsylvania State Univeristy, a law degree from the University of Michigan, and a Fullbright Scholarship to Tokyo University. A native of New Jersey, his first job was as a mortician's apprentice in his family's funeral home; later, he worked as a lawyer in Washington, D.C. In researching this book he was bitten between the eyes by a blood python, chased by a mother allegator, sprayed by a bird-eating tarantula, and ejaculated on by a Bengal Tiger. A freelance writer with a taste for adventure, he has worked for Playboy and National Geographic. He can be reached at bryanchristy.com, or via thelizardkingbook.com/

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Table of Contents


The Argentine Conspiracy     1
New Agent in Town     10
Operation Cobra     20
Reptile Love     46
The Big Kid     54
The Easy Case     65
Law of the Jungle     82
The First Bullet     91
Jungle Cartel     108
The Bat Cave     132
Cat and Mouse     155
Fortress Malaysia     178
Caged     200
Special Agent     212
The Chameleon     226
Author's Note     231
Acknowledgments     237
About the Author     241
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