The Allure of Exotics A review of Forbidden Creatures: Inside the World of Animal Smuggling and Exotic Pets by Peter Laufer

Author Peter Laufer delves into the world of illegal animal trade—and the odd assortment of ready buyers—in his book, Forbidden Creatures: Inside the World of Animal Smuggling and Exotic Pets (Lyons Press, $19.95). A business that nets between $10 and $20 billion a year, the trafficking of live wild animals is now the third most lucrative illegal business in the world. Laufer writes, “During the research for this book I found a tiger in the back of a feed store, a colony of chimpanzees in the countryside south of St. Louis, and laundry bags full of pythons in a decommissioned Nike missile base in the Everglades.”

Through a cast of characters that includes sellers, smugglers and buyers of illegal animals, Laufer explores what drives people to become involved, and what risks they take. He finds owners who are quick to dismiss the quirky behaviors of their pet monkeys or chimpanzees—until they suddenly become aggressive, that is, as happened in 2009 when a Connecticut woman was severely disfigured in a vicious attack by a 200-pound chimpanzee named Travis.

Trying to make sense of the appeal of owning an endangered and potentially dangerous animal, Laufer writes, “Some owners just don’t do their homework. But others revel in the idea of the King of the Jungle living in their homes.” The rarity of an animal only increases its “hot commodity” status, and the further decline of endangered species worldwide. —Erin Schneider