Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bryan Christy's "The Lizard King"

Bryan Christy has written for National Geographic and Playboy.

He applied “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passions of the World's Greatest Reptile Smugglers, and reported the following:
The Lizard King is the true story of a dedicated federal agent who spends five years of his life trying to catch America's biggest reptile smuggler. Mike Van Nostrand owns Strictly Reptiles of Hollywood, Florida, a family business importing hundreds of thousands of snakes, frogs, lizards, and tortoises each year. Strictly Reptiles is the likely source behind green iguanas and baby turtles you've seen on sale at pet shops across the country. But Strictly Reptiles is also the brains and the bank behind an international reptile smuggling syndicate linking Europe, Southeast Asia, and South America—all of it tied to Van Nostrand's warehouse just north of Miami.

Special Agent Bepler of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has sworn to stop the Van Nostrands, not because he loves reptiles, but because of what else he's discovered is at stake from the Van Nostrands' operation. This is a true crime story. On page 99 of The Lizard King, we meet a friend of the Van Nostrands, Hank Molt, a man who pioneered the idea of poaching high-end collectable reptiles, and sold them to the first customers reptile smugglers had, America's top zoos….

Page 99:

Peter Brazaitis at the Bronx Zoo stuck his finger into a sleeping alligator's cloaca and discovered how to sex alligators. You just had to try things. The simplest tricks make the biggest differences. The discovery that even jungle and desert species required a dark, cool period to get their sex hormones flowing opened the door to predictable breeding. Today elementary school children breed in classrooms what herpetologists as late as the 1970s considered impossible. In Molt's era, running a reptile house was like owning a flower shop: some species you expected to take root, but most you threw away, then ordered more.

Molt offered reptile curators a king's reach. By freelancing he bestowed on his customers the same rush that royalty for all of man's history has enjoyed: the charge from opening a crate sent home by an army on crusade, by a Christopher Columbus, or by a Dutch or British East India Company explorer.

His Indiana Jones-like talent for bringing home trophies offered reptile curators a chance for something their mammalian and avian colleagues had known for a century: respect. He focused on five zoos he considered especially competitive with one another when it came to reptiles: Houston, Dallas, Columbus, Fort Worth, and Cincinnati. As if training guard dogs, he sold to them in rationed bits, offering each one just enough treats to keep it aggressive.

At three o'clock on a cold Tuesday afternoon, January 14, 1975, two United States customs agents entered
Read an excerpt from The Lizard King, and learn more about the book and author at Bryan Christy's website and his blog.

--Marshal Zeringue