By Molly Day
All the Dirt on Gardening
Peter Laufer is an investigative journalist with several books to his credit, including “Healing the Wounds,” “Hunger in America,” and “A Loss for Words.” He has broadcast programs on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Mexican immigration and Soviet-era Russian Jews.
When Laufer spoke at a book promotion in Washington he joked that he wanted to take a break from serious journalism and write about something light – maybe flowers and butterflies.
A Nicaraguan woman watching his talk on C-SPAN invited him to come to her butterfly reserve where she and her husband raise butterflies to sell to butterfly houses and collectors around the world. And his discoveries only begin there.
His experiences researching and writing “Mission Rejected” led to his publishing a natural history trilogy: “The Dangerous World of Butterflies,” “Forbidden Creatures” and “No Animals Were Harmed During the Writing of this Book.”
“The Dangerous World of Butterflies” is 258-pages of stories about the people who collect, raise, protect, sell and preserve butterflies throughout the world. Laufer interviewed people imprisoned for poaching and selling butterflies on the black market, those who protest the building of a wall between Mexico and the US because of its impact on wildlife, and artists who use butterfly parts as the medium for their art.
He found that experts do not know butterfly’s role in nature, that no new species have been discovered in America in 50-years, and that monarchs that spend the winter in Mexico remain for 5 generations before returning.
Hisayoshi Kojima, the man who called himself “the world’s most wanted butterfly smuggler” landed a federal jail sentence due to the diligent work of Fish and Wildlife Service agent Ed Newcomer, who picked up a 1999 cold case investigation of the smuggler.
Luafer tells the story of Newcomer’s undercover work tracking Kojima’s sales of rare and threatened butterfly species.
Naturalist Vladimir Dinets says, “Professional poachers are tough people, excellent mountaineers, and they try to make friends with local warlords and drug smugglers.” Laufer tells the story of stick-wielding forest guards in Darjeeling protecting national living treasures, confronting butterfly poachers armed with AK-47s.
He interviewed Edith Smith at Shady Oak Butterfly Farm (www.butterfliesetc.com) and trekked with Jana Johnson as she works to restore the almost extinct Palos Verdes Blue butterfly in California.
Not everyone is thrilled about butterflies. One expert refers to butterflies as pretty cockroaches. The website and Facebook pages called I Hate Butterflies (www.ihatebutterflies.com) are for people who “fear, are disgusted by, and generally dislike butterflies (and moths).”
Laufer is a San Francisco native with experience at public radio stations on the west coast and the book has some odd bits that seem out of place. For example, Laufer presents his anti-president Bush comments about the environment not being well enough protected.
Also, critics found some butterfly names misspelled in the text and recommend that we read the “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” by scientist Sean Carroll instead.
Another complaint is that Laufer seems to think collectors should not stick pins in butterflies when thousands more are killed on our highways every year than will ever show up in collections around the world. Butterfly and moth collections throughout the centuries have provided scientists with valuable information about species extinction, migration patterns and changing habitats.
In fact, the University of Florida’s Thomas Emmel is quoted as saying, “No butterfly has been exterminated by over-collecting, ever.”
“The Dangerous World of Butterflies,” by Peter Laufer, was published 2009, by Lyons Press, $16.95 and available used, online, for a penny. There is an interview with Dr. Laufer on “The Daily Show” at http://bit.ly/94NREZ.
This book is an entertaining read about butterflies and the people who are passionate about them.