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17+ must-reads on illegal wildlife trade

By John D. Sutter, CNN
March 18, 2014 -- Updated 1652 GMT (0052 HKT)
A black dehorned rhinoceros is followed by a calf in South Africa in 2012.
A black dehorned rhinoceros is followed by a calf in South Africa in 2012.
  • NEW: The list grows with more suggested reading
  • The next Change the List series will focus on wildlife trafficking
  • Readers voted for John Sutter to cover that topic as part of the project
  • Sutter asks Twitter followers to help him create a list of "must-reads" on trafficking

Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and creator of CNN's Change the List project. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. E-mail him at

(CNN) -- The illegal trade in animals is emptying ecosystems and pushing rare species toward extinction. I know this is a topic you care deeply about, because 13,276 of you voted for me to cover wildlife trafficking as part of CNN's Change the List effort.

Those of you who didn't vote should get interested, too. The illegal trade in wildlife is valued at $19 billion per year, according to a 2013 report from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and it's known to finance the drug trade and illegal arms trade as well.

Plus, the trade is fodder for some amazing stories -- stories of desperate poachers, daring park rangers and bizarre little creatures in need of protection.

Related: Poachers are prey in the Congo

John D. Sutter
John D. Sutter

I asked my Twitter followers last week to help me come up with a list of must-read books and must-watch documentaries on the subject of the global wildlife trade. The start of that list is below. Have other suggestions? Leave a note in the comments and I might add your book, documentary, article or podcast to this list.

Related: 99 must-reads on income inequality

And look for more on this soon. The next Change the List project will focus on the illegal wildlife trade. You'll find the stories here at CNN Opinion, at, and on my Twitter and Facebook feeds. The books on this list will help inform that story.

Until then, here's the list. Thanks for your help in sharing and growing it:

1. "Shell Games: Rogues, Smugglers and the Hunt for Nature's Bounty," by Craig Welch (From Amazon: "'Shell Games' is a cops-and-robbers tale set in a double-crossing world where smugglers fight turf wars over some of the world's strangest marine creatures.")

2. "Anything that Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters and the Making of a New American Food Culture," by Dana Goodyear (I read this book late last year and loved it. It's not exactly on the wildlife trade, per se, but as Goodyear "sets out to meet the people who are stretching our notions of what is edible," as the The Times put it in a review, she also explores people in the United States who are eating rare and endangered animals, including a restaurant in Santa Monica, California, that was busted serving whale.)

3. "Killing for Profit," by Julian Rademeyer ("On the black markets of Southeast Asia, rhino horn is worth more than gold, cocaine and heroin," the book's site says. This catalogs a "two-year-long investigation into a dangerous criminal underworld.")

4. "The Lizard King: True Crimes and Passions of the World's Greatest Reptile Smugglers," by Bryan Christy (From Amazon: "Imagine 'The Sopranos,' with snakes!")

5. "Black Market: Inside the Endangered Species Trade in Asia," by Ben Davies

6. "Trading to Extinction," by Patrick Brown (A black-and-white photo book of 10 years of work documenting the wildlife trade.)

7. "Animal Investigators: How the World's First Wildlife Forensics Lab Is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species," by Laurel Neme ("CSI for wildlife.")

8. "The Tiger: A True Story of Vengence and Survival," by John Vaillant (I'm a couple chapters into this and the suspense is gripping and the writing is eloquent -- and it sounds like it just gets better. From The New York Times review: "The structure of John Vaillant's book echoes that of 'Moby-Dick,' alternating a gripping chase narrative with dense explanations of the culture and ecology surrounding that chase. 'Jaws' fans will recognize the dramatic strategy of keeping the beast offstage as much as possible to allow terror to fill in the blanks, as well as a certain lurid detail at the book's end, which I won't reveal.")

9. "Love, Life and Elephants," by Daphne Sheldrick (A memoir by "the first person ever to have successfully hand-reared newborn elephants.")

10. "Conflict Tiger," by Sasha Snow (A documentary that inspired Vaillant's book. "In the forests of the Russian Far East, an inexperienced and foolhardy poacher triggers an infamous series of tiger attacks on people." Watch a preview on Vimeo.)

11. "Battle for the Elephants," by John Heminway (2013 National Geographic special, which you can watch online via

12. "The Last Rhino," by Jonah Hull (Al Jazeera "examines the poaching industry from South Africa to Asia.)

13. "Ivory, Horn and Blood: Behind the Elephant and Rhinoceros Poaching Crisis," by Ronald Orenstein

14. "Policing International Trade in Endangered Species," by Rosalind Reeve (Examines the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, more commonly known as CITES.)

15. "Hope for Animals and Their World: How Endangered Species are Being Rescued from the Brink," by Jane Goodall

16. "The Last Great Ape," by Ofir Drori and David McDannald

17. "Behind the Schemes," iTunes podcast by Annamiticus

UPDATE: More must-reads!

Thanks to dozens of you for suggesting additions to this list. Some of your picks are below. Keep them coming in the comments section at the bottom of this story. Also, check out a wildlife-trafficking-focused Twitter list I created with your help.

18. "Trafficking: A Memoir of an Undercover Game Warden," by Tony Latham

19. "Bear Sanctuary," by Victor Watkins

20. "The Last Rhinos: My Battle to Save One of the World's Greatest Creatures," by Lawrence Anthony

21. "Game Wars: The Undercover Pursuit of Wildlife Poachers," by Marc Reisner (1993)

22. "Winged Obsession: The Pursuit of the World's Most Notorious Butterfly Smuggler," by Jessica Speart

23. "Sold into Extinction," by Jacqueline Schneider (A criminologist's perspective)

24. "To Save an Elephant," by Allan Thornton and Dave Currey

25. "Stolen World: A Tale of Reptiles, Smugglers and Skulduggery," by Jennie Erin Smith

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John D. Sutter.

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