By: Staff  Date: 01/15/2012 Category: | Book Reviews |

Animal Underworld: Inside America's Black Market for Rare and Exotic Species by Alan Green and the Center for Public Integrity; Public Affairs, a member of Perseus Books Group, New York; 272 pages; $25. The book project was underwritten by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

In 1992, former Time Inc. research manager Judith Reitman wrote Stolen for Profit: How the Medical Establishment is Funding a National Pet-Theft Conspiracy in which she claimed that two million family pets - dogs and cats - are stolen each year for medical research. Trouble is, USDA annual reports indicate fewer than 200,000 dogs and cats actually used for research and researchers say that most of them are purpose-bred. No matter (and no references) - Reitman was given an ethical book award by the Dog Writer's Association of America to go with her 1991 Genesis Award for her animal rights activities.

In 1999, Alan Green has apparently followed in her footsteps with Animal Underworld, another unreferenced work claiming to uncover a hidden trade in exotic animals run by zoos and other wildlife exhibitors. Green does make some good points - many animals in the pet trade are inappropriate pets for average families, some animals sold as pets are dangerous because they are aggressive or can carry zoonotic diseases, some uses of animals are unethical, and some animal dealers violate federal and state laws regarding sale and transport of exotic animals, including those on the endangered species list. However, like Reitman before him, he weaves a tale of horror intended to leave no doubt that directors of zoos and wildlife preserves routinely and callously dump animals into the pet trade with a wink and a nod, knowing but not caring that the animals may end up in canned hunts, research institutions, auctions, or the pet trade.


  • writes of compiling thousands of pages of health certificates and permits, paperwork he claims is easily falsified, but he fails to produce specific examples;
  • quoted wildlife officers who said that the forms are practically useless, but again, produces no references to either written work or private conversations on a particular date;
  • denigrates all who handle exotic animals, lumping the illegal dealers with the legitimate auction houses, pet dealers, zoos, farmers, and others who deal with exotics;
  • gives no credit to zoos that are working to reduce surplus animal production; and
  • offers no suggestions for improving enforcement of animal care and transport standards he claimed are consistently violated.

Emotionally loaded words and phrases abound: Captive-bred wildlife is "part of an elaborate and sinister shell game quietly shunted from place to place by those more interested in profits than in preservation of the species"; a dealer is a "launderer" of animals for zoos; trade in exotics is "sordid commerce"; zoos have something to hide if they don't tell the public what happens to surplus animals, and tiger owners interested in conservation of the species are "profiteering charlatans". Thus Green reinforces over and over that exotic animals are betrayed by all who come in contact with them: zoos, research institutions, federal and state agencies, dealers, auctioneers, hunters, and pet owners. His only solution to the complex problems faced by zoos and research facilities that own animals is to let the public have access to the records and make the decisions about animal disbursalGreen contends that zoo animals are actually owned by the public, not by the institution. He denigrates "zoo baby" events that bring people in the gates in droves, people who help support the zoo's efforts to save endangered species through education and science supported by admission fees and memberships. He indicts zoo outreach programs that bring wild animals to public attention through appearances on television shows and at public events if the animals are rented from private dealers. He questions the ethics of zoo directors who approve the sale of animals to private dealers who then may sell the animals to third parties for use in entertainment, research, hunting, or pets. He denounces the practice of advertising exotic animals in private journals and criticizes zoos that drop the price when an animal doesn't sell. Enforcement agencies draw his wrath as well: USDA policies ". substitute secrecy for government in the sunshine" and ". paved the way for the systematic laundering of exotic species"; USDA's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service is "the object of endless ridicule" for enforcement efforts and policies; and US Fish & Wildlife Service is unconcerned about zoonotic diseases carried by exotic animals.


In at least two cases, Green distorts the facts. On page 25, after noting that USDA's APHIS division was rewriting some of the standards for keeping exotic animals, he wrote:

"Among the well-known animal-handling specialists offering advice to APHIS on how to protect exotic animals was Bobby Berosini, a Las Vegas entertainer who, in 1989, was secretly caught on videotape taunting and apparently beating his orangutans backstage at the Stardust Hotel. Berosini was later stripped of his USFWS permit, which allowed him to buy and sell captive-born endangered species, but he nonetheless still maintains a troupe of nine great apes that pose with customers for photographs and perform a vulgar circus-style act that includes giving onlookers the finger."

Court documents show that the videotaping was set up by a disgruntled former employee of the hotel who surreptitiously teased the orangs and recorded Berosini's efforts to calm them down. Berosini sued several individual activists and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals when they distributed the videotape and accused him of cruelty on national television. No charges of cruelty were ever filed against Berosini after several examinations of his animals; in fact, USDA and the local humane society investigated and found no cause for charges of abuse and none of the experts hired by PeTA to support their allegations would sign a statement saying the animals were abused.10 The jury agreed unanimously that the activist had set-up and doctored the notorious videotape to defame the entertainer and to raise money for PeTA's coffers, and the judge fined PeTA's attorneys more than $20,000 for falsely claiming that the apes were beaten with a metal rod and for circulating the unsigned statement that the animals had been abused.

Green was correct in stating that Berosini's federal permit to buy and sell wildlife was suspended. The US Fish & Wildlife Service took that step after PeTA continued its unsubstantiated claims in public and through a mail campaign that convinced several members of Congress to ask for action against the entertainer.

The second distortion involves the Ohio Association of Animal Owners, an animal welfare group comprised mostly of exotic animal farmers and owners. On page 98, Green wrote:

"In Ohio, where there is virtually no state regulation of the personal ownership of nonnative species, lawmakers and animal-welfare organizations pushing for controls have proved to be no match for the Ohio Association of Animal Owners. Spear-headed by a husband-and-wife team, Polly and Gary Ward, the association lacks the high-profile big-money interests of its Texas counterparts, but it successfully wages aggressive campaigns against any legislative proposal deemed a threat to the rights of those who own or sell animals."

Actually, Polly and Gary Ward are in the forefront of efforts to improve Ohio's animal welfare law to apply to all species, including the exotic hoofed stock they raise for food and fiber. The Wards' livestock includes fallow deer, red deer, Russian boar, and Texas dall sheep for their personal use and for market and miniature horses, donkeys, and pygmy goats to sell as pets. Their efforts include aid for animal owners who are targeted by humane agencies and other law enforcement agencies and support for an animal welfare bill that sets animal care standards and requires training of humane agents.


Green and the Center for Public Integrity missed a great opportunity to deal reasonably with the problems inherent in the broad spectrum of exotic animal ownership and use. Instead, they blurred the lines between the legitimate interaction with these animals and the perspective that all such interaction should cease unless it can be controlled by the public. They left unanswered a myriad of questions:

Who owns zoo or research animals - the public or the institution? What should zoos do with animals that they can no longer house? What should happen to individuals of an endangered species that are over-represented in captive breeding programs? How can regulations be changed or enforcement improved to protect the animals without violating the rights of the owners? How can animal owners and dealers be enlisted in the process? The claim could be made that a book exposing the problem is valuable in its own right, but this book wallows in its disgust at trade in exotic animals and leaves us in the muck, without hope or plans for improvement. Green could have chosen the balanced, referenced model used by Cory Meacham in How the Tiger Lost Its Stripes 13or Raymond Bonner in At The Hand of Man14, but the one-sided, unreferenced, black perspective on the use of animals apparently fit his purpose


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All Authors Of This Article: | Norma Bennett Woolf |
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