Animal Underworld: Inside America's Black Market for
Rare and Exotic Species.
By Alan Green. 1999, Public Affairs (Perseus Book Group), New York, NY.
xxix + 286 pp. illustrated.
With support from the Center for Public Integrity and funding from the
Geraldine Dodge Foundation, journalist Alan Green takes his readers on
a fascinating sojourn through the market for exotic animals in the United
States. He unravels egregious excesses of the pet, trophy, and medicinal
markets and explores the general commercialization of wildlife. He also
implicates the venerable likes of the Discover Channel, many AZA-member
zoos, and research labs including some regional primate centers. Green
exposes various lapses and gaps in the Endangered Species Act, the Animal
Welfare Act, and state and federal health statutes, and discusses, by
name, a number of unsavory breeders, auctions, and middlemen in the trails
of carnage throughout. In short, no one is spared, but a plethora of timely
and important issues are discussed in a well-articulated prose. Green
first informs his readers of his growing personal interest in the issue
, which was peaked while he was volunteer at National Zoo's Ape House.
AZA-member zoos advertise new arrivals, but this year's popular babies
become future cast-offs. These well-known and well-visited institutions
are themselves starting-off points supplying some markets. There is a
fair amount of overlap in the twelve chapters that form the bulk of the
text, but each chapter is well-documented and focused primarily on one
major issue. Particularly interesting was Chapter 4 (Paper Trails), in
which Green indicates the difficulty in learning the fates of many animals
due to various roadblocks he encountered in several state governments.
It turns out that the Freedom of Information Act was not enough in some
states (e.g. Alabama and Tennessee) to persuade employees to release animal
records. Others (e.g. Michigan, Indiana, Missouri) were more forthcoming.
What this of course means is that we may never know the full range of
markets throughout the country, and that governments and institutions
that were forthcoming (and therefore received a fair amount of criticism)
may in fact be less responsible for the major excesses. Chapter 9 (Time
Bombs) is also particularly informative. In it, Green discusses many of
the health issues associated with the growing pet markets. Macaques, until
the mid-1990s, were mostly held and bred by zoos and biomedical research
enterprises in the United States, but are now a mainstay of the pet trade.
All species also carry the deadly (to humans) herpes b virus, and an estimated
80 to 90% of adult animals test positive. Other health threats, such as
the fact that prairie dogs now sold in some pet shops are major carriers
of bubonic plague, are also brought to light. Woven throughout are other
stories of our modern fascination with wildlife. Canned-hunt facilities
(generally denounced by the NRA and Safari Club International) regularly
acquire surplus from zoos and some allow patrons to shoot caged or penned
animals. Some breeders of large cats and bears regularly supply the exotic
meat and medicinal markets. Wisconsin state officials have issued warnings
of the potential for the spread of brucellosis and tuberculosis to domestic
livestock by large exotic ungulates brought in regularly, and Michigan's
deer herds (where canned hunts are common) already carry the latter. Green
discusses several individuals who kept large numbers of exotics in squalid
conditions: sufferers of 'collector's syndrome.' Some heroes are also
discussed, including a wealthy Kentucky couple who have set up a well-run
sanctuary for unwanted monkeys and apes. Some people advocate more and
tougher laws, while in some states, the animals traders and canned-hunt
operators are politically well-connected and able to thwart these attempts
(e.g. Texas). The stories go on and on, but Green comes to some potential
answers in the end, especially for AZA-member zoos to ponder. Honest,
open policies that could be considered, such as mandating sterilization
for all surplus, using surplus ungulates as feed for large carnivores,
euthanasia, and overtly using surplus animals for canned hunts or medicinal
markets, are discussed. Many of these are now done by middle men so that
the large zoos can absolve themselves of the thorny issues. Green suggests
that AZA-members may in fact be the biggest obstacles to change, as any
criticism is generally considered (and publicized) to be emanating from
the animal rights fringe. If the public knew of the large numbers of surplus
and potential markets for them, perhaps a more complete dialogue could
be achieved. This book should be read by all zoo professions and animal
breeders and wholesalers. I am sure many will find fault where I could
not. In my mind, much more appalling than canned hunts or euthanasia,
for example, is the gross proliferation of exotic animals as household
pets (few of which come from zoos). My own city (Miami) is indicted repeatedly
by Green for being a major source, legally and illegally, through both
breeding and importation. Many exotics are dumped regularly in and around
Miami (as elsewhere) by irresponsible pet owners who want the latest designer
animals for, apparently, prestige. Thus the carnage continues.
Joel T. Heinen
Dr. Heinen is an Assistant Professor at Florida International
University in Miami.
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