A Tale of Reptiles, Smugglers, and Skulduggery
By Jennie Erin Smith
(Broadway Books, Paperback, 9780307381484, 336pp.)
Publication Date: January 4, 2011
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In 1965, Hank Molt, a young cheese salesman from Philadelphia, reinvented himself as a "specialist dealer in rare fauna," traveling the world to collect exquisite reptiles for zoos and museums. By the end of the decade that followed, new endangered species laws had turned Molt into a convicted smuggler, and an unrepentant one, who went on to provide many of the same rare reptiles to many of the same institutions, covertly.
But Molt soon found a rival in Tommy Crutchfield, a Florida carpet salesman with every intention of usurping Molt as the most accomplished reptile smuggler in the country. Like Molt, Crutchfield had modeled himself after an earlier generation of natural-history collectors celebrated for their service to science, an ideal that, for Molt and Crutchfield, eclipsed the realities of the new wildlife-protection laws. Zoo curators, caught between a desire for rare animals and the conservation-minded focus of their institutions, became the smugglers' antagonists in court but also their best customers, sometimes simultaneously.
Crutchfield forged ties with a criminally inclined Malaysian wildlife trader and emerged a millionaire, beloved by some of the finest zoos in the world. Molt, following a string of inventive but disastrous smuggling schemes in New Guinea, was reduced to hanging around Crutchfield's Florida compound, plotting Crutchfield's demise. The fallout from their feud would result in a major federal investigation with tentacles in Germany, Madagascar, Holland, and Malaysia. And yet even after prison, personal ruin, and the depredations of age, Molt and Crutchfield never stopped scheming, never stopped longing for the snake or lizard that would earn each his rightful place in a world that had forgotten them--or rather, had never recognized them to begin with.
"From the Hardcover edition.
JENNIE ERIN SMITH is a freelance science reporter and a frequent reviewer on
animals and natural history for the Times Literary Supplement. She is a recipient
of the Rona Jaffe Award for women writers, a fellowship at the Fine Arts Work
Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, two first-place awards from the American
Association of Sunday and Feature Editors, and the Waldo Proffitt Award for