24 February 2013

THE LIZARD KING by Bryan Christy

For a few months now I have been reading, watching and listening to everything that could be related to illegal wildlife trade with the objective of understanding how the market works. Yesterday evening I finished reading “The Lizard King” by Bryan Christy and this morning everything seems to make sense.

In January 2010, I randomly bought some magazines probably to read during a flight. Among those I bought the National Geographic where Bryan had an article about illegal wildlife trade “L’odieux traffic des animaux sauvages”.The article made such an impact (to me but also to the Malaysian government it seems) that I kept the magazine with the idea that someday I would need to go back to it for one reason or another. That same year I went to Malaysia, to Penang, and I am sure one of the zoos the travel agency insisted that we visited had something to do with Anson Wong, maybe it was his own zoo, who knows.  This year I went again to Malaysia, to Borneo, where the rainforest is still full of life, and finally, while I was walking away from nature, I understood why I had kept Bryan’s article. I had to do something. So, in a few words, this is why the blog is here. Not that I ever considered sharing this story with anybody, but after reading “The lizard king” I felt I had to thank Bryan first, for helping me discover what my next step in life is, and second, for his clear and in depth research  about the illegal international trade of wildlife.

The book is focused on the “demand” side of the story in US, on those who made huge amounts of money by purchasing and reselling wildlife lizards to anyone interested, including zoos. Mike van Nostrand is the main character, but not the only smuggler mentioned. And then, we have the other side of the story, the Federal agent that after years of patient and frustrating work managed to put the smuggler in jail thanks to his motivation, courage, and persistence.

However, Bryan’s book is much more than that. “The lizard king” points directly to those who are ultimately responsible for enforcing wildlife legislation and CITES more in particular. Corruption amongst CITES authorities, Customs officers and even Governments are a huge part of the problem from the supply side. From the demand one, enforcement becomes as a real concern: What is a law worth for is there is no enforcement? If the necessary means are not there to stop this traffic?

Corruption and enforcement….the two pillars of illegal wildlife trafficking. Though I won’t be able to see Bryan’s new documentary next week about the illegal trade in ivory (Battle for the elephants), I have the impression that, again, these two elements will be part of the equation, to which this time, armed militias and terrorist groups will probably be added. I run to the shop to buy National Geographic to read his article.

Thanks to all the Bryans in this world and keep up the good work!

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