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Download The Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passions of the World's Greatest Reptile Smugglers Audiobook (Unabridged)

Extended Audio Sample The Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passions of the Worlds Greatest Reptile Smugglers (Unabridged), by Bryan Christy
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (172 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Bryan Christy Narrator: Tony Ward Publisher: Recorded Books Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: March 2009 ISBN:
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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. Download and start listening now!

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Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Bill | 2/20/2014

    " Great story, quick read. Not a whole lot of investigative insights, but good dissections of personalities "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Eric_W | 2/14/2014

    " Ray Van Nostrand is nuts about reptiles. Even as a child, he bought and resold thousands of turtles, snakes, newts and other creepy crawly things. Before regulation of such trade began in the late 20th century (strange to phrase it that way) it was legal to import all sorts of endangered animals. Polio could probably not have been conquered without thousands of monkeys to experiment on. Preventing such trade is the charge of the Fish and Wildife service, a woefully underfunded agency, that struggles to do the best job it can. The book follows the career of Chris Bepler who manages to unravel the web of illegal smuggling done by the Van Nostrand family, owners of Strictly Reptiles, an ostensibly legitimate reptile dealer, which had a virtual monopoly on the business. But this book really isn't about one individual; it's about a very profitable industry and the governments attempts to curtail a business that was devastating endangered species. The reader is also treated to numerous anecdotes, often seemingly unconnected, but interesting, nevertheless. There is one story very similar to one in The Snake Charmer A Life and Death in Pursuit of Knowledge. Dr. Schmidt, an herpetologst in New York, walked into one of his labs to see an assistant holding up an African snake in an attempt to identify it in a book. Schmidt took the snake, grabbing it a little to far behind the head and was bitten. Turns out it was a boomslang, particularly venomous. Schmidt decided to document his experience from bite to recovery, it having been a small critter and he a reasonably healthy 67. He had some symptoms, but by the next morning appeared to be better, so much so he went to work. He died of respiratory failure later that afternoon. Joe Slowinski, in The Snake Charmer, another herpetologist on an expedition to Burma, reached into a bag that he thought contained a non-venomous mimic of the multi-banded krait, an extremely poisonous snake. He died, too, after documenting his symptoms. Most snake lovers are male and seem to be drawn to an adventurous lifestyle. I don't much care for snakes. I guess that says a lot about me. Surprisingly enough, much of the business for reptile smugglers came from zoos. Often they would facilitate illegal activities by running front men, hiding paperwork, etc. Even though they could legally import many of the animals they sought, it was easier (with less paperwork) to do it illegally. Zoos compete to get the most people visiting their locations; they also compete professionally. To have the prestige of the "most complete collection of a genus, longevity record, first to breed." It was all one-upsmanship. Breeding reptiles is not easy. Until the late sixties no one even knew hoe to sex the, The sex organs are concealed within a single excretory vent known as the cloaca. "It was not until 1967, for example, that Peter Brazaitis at the Bronx zoo stuck his finger into a sleeping alligator's cloaca and discovered how to sex alligators." One wonders how long the alligator remained sleeping. Probably leaped several yards in the air. Pretty funny, actually. Hank Molt, the dealer who was doing business with the zoos was finally prosecuted under a multitude of charges. The problem was some prominent zoos were involved and the word came down from on high to lay off. Still, he got one of the largest prison sentences ever (3 months in a federal prison!). But in the meantime some of the regulatory laws were gutted in the process. Ironically, in another example of the law of unintended consequences, many of the laws (CITES, the Endangered Species Act, the Lacey Act) made trafficking in endangered animals much more profitable. Since the number of people willing to break the law was relatively small, and scarcity made for profitability, the endangered animals were the most sought after making them even more endangered. The biological and the regulatory combined to make the business extremely profitable. Strictly Reptiles, the Van Nostrand family business was soon attracting the business of smugglers from around thew world. They could supply anything and soon became the target of a new federal task force. Van Nostrand was also selling hundreds of thousands of legal pet store animals and had a sophisticated system set up in his warehouse (an old Frito-Lay warehouse built right on the top of the line between two police jurisdictions, something that came in handy) that would disguise and hide protected species when anyone remotely suspected of being a Fed would show up. His price list was amazing: baby water moccasins for $5, a black mamba for $500, all the way up to a pair of giant Aldabra tortoises for $23,000. Lots of interesting details about animal smuggling and its unintended consequences. It's not well put together, though. Van Nostrand was a primary source for this book so much of the action is seen through his eyes, but it also follows the career of Chip Bepler, the Fish and Game officer responsible for collecting much of the information for Van Nostrand's successful prosecution. I would have liked to give this book 4 stars, but it ends so abruptly, that I literally checked my Kindle version to make sure I wasn't missing some pages. Chip Bepler died in his late forties so his part just falls off the edge. If you think this review is disjointed, you'll have a good idea of the book. On the other hand, if you like a books filled with lots of detail about a bizarre business, the pages will fly by. By the way, next time you fly somewhere, the guy's bag next to you may just be filled with endangered snakes or turtles. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Linda | 2/14/2014

    " A disturbing look at illegal trade in wildlife. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Dawn | 2/12/2014

    " I don't understand the rare animals trafficking business and this explained what happens and how, but I still didn't get the why. But it makes clear just how much money is involved and the fascinating ties to all other types of trafficking. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Laura | 2/11/2014

    " Despite all my zoo and animal reading, I have generally not searched out the herptile aspects, so just about everything in this book was new to me. I had known a little about the Philadelphia Reptile Exchange as it fits into the sketchy history of zoos as a whole, but I'd never investigated the people or the system involved in any depth, which this book does very well. I really wish the author's note had been placed at the start of the book instead of at the end, as I had read the entire book assuming a good deal of artistic license (as is often the case in a journalistic book with no obvious references), and I had no idea the author had spent years speaking with (and even working with) nearly every person named in the book. Impressive research. I would have liked to learn more about what happened to animals after they left the dealers' hands, but the focus of the book was intended to be the conflict between the individuals involved, with the system as a whole mostly used as backdrop. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Steve | 1/25/2014

    " If, like me, you once had a slight obsession with reptiles, you are sure to find this book interesting. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jonathan Green | 1/14/2014

    " A fascinating undiscovered gem. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Bjblanche | 1/13/2014

    " I had no idea! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Kimberly | 1/12/2014

    " Picked it up at the Daytona Reptile show and it was signed by the author. Very eye opening as to the reality of reptile smuggling and its impact on big business. Who knew? "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Matt | 12/30/2013

    " Perhaps not the best written book, but very interesting subject. The second half was much better than the first, and finally started feeling a connection with the story and characters. I never realized how much crime and smuggling was involved with the sale of reptiles. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Eileen | 12/9/2013

    " Good information for my class on conservation issues - disturbing how little we care about the animal trade. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Kati | 11/21/2013

    " The book was very interesting and written really well. The judicial aspect that was written was kind of boring to me but still well written. I enjoyed the stories of the actual smuggling of the reptiles and the business history aswell. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Sara Phelps | 9/25/2013

    " Not being a reptile fan myself, this story introduced me to the culture of those who are--and those interested in the money that can be made off of them. It is a fascinating analog to drug smuggling, and I don't think I can forget the image of how snakes are used to smuggle coke. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Holly | 6/10/2013

    " Great non-fiction book that reads like a story. It's about reptile smuggling, which I didn't even know existed until I read this book. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Shawn | 12/31/2012

    " well-written, great character development for a non-fiction, interesting tale of animal and animal product smuggling "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Francha | 9/5/2012

    " A peek into the cat and mouse (or mongoose and cobra) game of reptile smugglers and the lawmen who try to stop them. The descriptions of snakes taped to smugglers' bellies and lizards under their socks made me squirm. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Liz | 5/21/2012

    " Really well written and engaging. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Laurie | 9/19/2011

    " Good easy writing style, very interesting story. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Cliff | 8/6/2011

    " I really enjoyed reading about this interesting underworld. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Cindy | 8/1/2011

    " Fascinating. I couldn't put it down. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Barbara | 4/3/2011

    " Drags a bit in the style of writing but there is an unbelievable world of reptile smuggling uncovered in these pages. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Sara | 2/20/2011

    " Not being a reptile fan myself, this story introduced me to the culture of those who are--and those interested in the money that can be made off of them. It is a fascinating analog to drug smuggling, and I don't think I can forget the image of how snakes are used to smuggle coke. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Cliff | 1/6/2011

    " I really enjoyed reading about this interesting underworld. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Muneer | 3/22/2010

    " Awesome look at the rare animal smuggling trade. Christy does a great job of populating the book with the various characters and oddballs who travel in these circles. He knows just when to put in that quirky extra details that lifts an anecdote from good to great. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Eileen | 2/19/2010

    " Good information for my class on conservation issues - disturbing how little we care about the animal trade. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Matt | 2/14/2010

    " This is a sordid world, where people stack tortoises in suitcases, conceal endangered iguanas under vicious monitors, and stuff and sew snakes full of cocaine. Great quick read! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Lizzie | 12/31/2009

    " I knew I would be interested in this book but I enjoyed it well more than I thought I would. A real insight into the world of animal smuggling and the men who fight it. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Laurie | 12/22/2009

    " Good easy writing style, very interesting story. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Bill | 12/3/2009

    " Great story, quick read. Not a whole lot of investigative insights, but good dissections of personalities "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Shawn | 11/24/2009

    " well-written, great character development for a non-fiction, interesting tale of animal and animal product smuggling "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Colleen | 11/9/2009

    " an interesting introduction to the illegal reptile trade reminiscent of the orchid thief. Somehow manages to be sympathetic to the perpetrators "

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