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Book Review

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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