Florida’s Infamous ‘Lizard King’ Apprehended for Allegedly Smuggling Turtles

by Jon D. B.

54-year-old Michael Van Nostrand, the infamous “Lizard King” of Florida, is facing another round of massive federal wildlife violations. This time, it’s turtle smuggling.

He’s one of the world’s biggest sources of reptile trading and a Florida staple. But now, federal charges could bring enormous fines and several years of jail time down onto the “Lizard King.”

Michael Van Nostrand has been convicted of wildlife smuggling before back in 1998. In 2021, the situation is looking awfully familiar. Van Nostrand has been accused of selling protected freshwater turtles in both North America and abroad. Documents from the Miami federal district court show he and his company established a full-on network of turtle smugglers. These “collectors” as they call themselves, would label their turtles as “bred in captivity,” attempting to hid their sinister scheme.

But the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Florida was not to be fooled. Their October 5 statement would reveal the full details.

Collecting wild turtles, in general, is illegal in Florida. But collecting them for commercial sale comes with far more hefty penalties. If the “Lizard King” sees conviction, he’ll face a personal fine of at least $250,000. Five years in prison are also on the table.

Moreover, Van Nostrand’s company, Strictly Reptiles, also faces criminal fines of $500,000. The accusations come more than two decades after his 1998 charges, from which Van Nostrand would serve eight months in prison for trafficked lizards and snakes, the Associated Press cites.

‘Lizard King’ Likely to Lose Self-Anointed Title

As one might expect, “Lizard King” is a self-imposed title that Michael Van Nostrand anointed himself with his 2008 memoir, The Lizard King. Much of his business with Strictly Reptiles is there on the pages. There, he sells turtles, snakes, lizards, and even baby alligators. Amphibians, spiders, and scorpions are also available. Even exotic mammals are available through Strictly Reptiles. Clearly, Van Nostrand isn’t interested in following his own business name any more than he is the law.

“Van Nostrand’s co-conspirators — the ‘collectors’ — represented in federal export disclosure documents that the turtles were captive-bred, rather than wild-caught, which was a lie,” the U.S. Attorney’s statement reads.

It’s a big business, too, with some of the turtles the “Lizard King” smuggled selling for as much as $10,000 in Shanghai, Radio Free Asia reports.

One such turtle is the three-striped mud turtle, or Kinosternon baurii by genus name. The yellow stripes on these adorable little freshwater turtles makes them a popular pet; something Van Nostrand was keen to capitalize on.

While the empire of the “Lizard King” would survive his 1998 charges, it’s too soon to tell if he will 2021’s, too. By the sound of it, however, Florida looks set to lose their premiere reptile smuggler. And a king is about to lose his crown.