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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Forbidden Creatures

by Peter Laufer
272 pages

About the Book

Laufer examines the exotic animal trade - legal and illegal - and the types of people who keep "big cats, long snakes, and great apes" as pets.

Why I Read It

I picked this up at BEA last May.  The first thing that attracted me was the cover - that yellow snake is actually a shimmery, reflective color when you see the book in person.  I'm fascinated by people who keep exotic animals so the topic of the book intrigued me as well.  And since BEA is coming up next week I thought I'd better finish reading the books I brought home last year before I bring home another stack. :)

My Thoughts

The subject matter of this book is absolutely fascinating to me.  I'm a huge fan of TV shows like Fatal Attractions and Python Hunters and many of the stories in the book were ones I recognized from those types of shows.  Having a big dog is about all the pet I can handle so the idea of owning a tiger, a chimpanzee, or a 200 lb snake is rather beyond my comprehension.  Still, I do understand the appeal.

Laufer looks at the exotic animal trade from a variety of perspectives in order to understand what it is that drives people to capture, breed, sell, and/or own these very wild creatures.  He also examines the unique position of wild animals bred in captivity:
They're not wild. They're not domesticated.  They're not feral. They're not tamed.  Perhaps we need to create a new classification: captive bred, untamable, and latently wild.  It's awkward but descriptive. (p95)
As I said, I'm very interested in this topic so I found the book quite intriguing.  At the same time, I felt that Laufer's writing was somewhat choppy.  I also got the impression that each chapter was written more as an essay than as a chapter, which resulted in a lot of repetition at the beginning of the book; this did improve as the book progressed though.


If you find the idea of exotic animals living with people to be an "interesting" situation then you will likely enjoy this book.  Read it for the topic not for the writing and you won't be disappointed.

The debate between the exotic pet lovers and those opposed to their relationships with their animals polarizes participants and observers.  Like abortion, capital punishment, and the viability of Sarah Palin as a presidential candidate, there seems to be precious little middle ground or room for compromise among the participants. (p105)


TheBookGirl said...

My biggest phobia, bar none, is my exaggerated fear of snakes. I can't look at them, read about them, and if one comes on during a commercial while I'm watching TV, I have nightmares for a week, lol.

So I guess this isn't the book for me; that said, I can understand why this might be interesting. The case of the woman in Conn who owned the chimpanzee that mauled her best friend made me wonder what the attraction is for owning these animals, and it seems from your review that the author does provide insight on that point. That last excerpt you quoted makes me wonder if the author comes down on one side or the other?

Heather J. said...

TheBookGirl - The chimpanzee incident is discussed quite a bit in this book, from a variety of angles. As for your last question, the author is very much against owning just about any kind of animal, but he's not particularly preachy about it - you definitely know where he stands though.

softdrink said...

When I was a kid, I wouldn't touch the pages of magazines that had creepy bugs or animals (think of the beautiful National Geo glossy, larger than life photos). I'd carefully turn the page by grabbing the very corner. Seeing that cover took me back to those days...I'm not sure I could stand to have that snake staring at me fromthe cover!

bermudaonion said...

Just the cover gives me the creeps.

Kate the Book Buff said...

I find the idea of exotic animals very interesting, so I think I'd enjoy this book. I love the quote that you gave from the book, very funny and very true :) Have a blast at BEA, I can't make it this year, but next year for sure!

-Kate the Book Buff
The Book Buff: Book Reviews for Regular People

Heather J. said...

softdrink - See, and I actually like the feel of snakes ... just can't stand to feed them!

bermudaonion - LOL I actually love the cover. :)

Kate - I don't think I've seen you here, so welcome! Glad you liked that quote - it was one of my favorites.

Alyce said...

The topic sounds interesting, but from your description I think the writing might be a turnoff for me. I do like reading about exotic animals though, even though I would never own one.

Audra said...

Fascinating! Not normally my type of read, but I like the quotes you've shared -- very thoughtful sounding.

Heather J. said...

Alyce - I did struggle with the writing, especially at the beginning. It improved as the book progressed, but had I not been really interested in the topic I might have put it aside.

Audra - It really did give me a lot to think about (maybe "worry about" is a better phrase ... with no regulation of these critters, who knows what could be living in my neighbor's house?!).

Audra said...

Heather: I used to live in Miami (South Beach) and saw some of the most insane creatures being kept as 'pets', including a woman who would regularly take her baby leopard out in a baby carriage and let people pet it. It was like watching a train accident about the happen - I was horrified on so many levels. I believe FL has some of the most lax laws when it comes to exotic animal ownership, if I recall correctly - it always made me apprehensive about what new neighbors might bring into the apartment building!

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