By Craig Welch
Ted Nelson stood in the shadows near the trash can. The boating-equipment salesman stared through a video camera at a dark-haired figure bent over a folding table. Inside a wing of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Hisayoshi Kojima -- Yoshi to his friends -- was inspecting a display of mounted butterflies. Around him, the corridors crawled with bug-lovers: entomologists, bug collectors, people who kept bugs as pets, bug sellers, bug buyers, even would-be tailors who knitted clothing with bug designs. Tourists gasped at hissing cockroaches skittering in Tupperware and dickered over prices for pin-mounted scorpions. It was late spring in 2006, and this was the 20th anniversary of Los Angeles' annual insect fair, among the largest events of its kind in the country. The 60 or so exhibitors were an extended family of sorts, who traded bugs on an international circuit of shows or through eBay. There were those who wanted things, and those who got things. Almost every vendor here knew Hisayoshi Kojima. The 55-year-old got things few others could.
And Ted Nelson was in the market for something no one else could get.
Nelson watched Kojima fiddle with his glasses. The two men had been friends once, or so one of them thought. They'd met here, three years earlier. Nelson had strolled up to Kojima's booth and started firing off questions. They'd hit it off spectacularly. Nelson said he wanted to collect insects. Flattered, Kojima made Nelson his protege.
For much of the next year, the two had been inseparable, and what Nelson learned blew him away. Few who knew Kojima hadn't heard that National Geographic had hired him to scout rainforest jungles for insects. Some knew Kojima made several hundred thousand dollars a year selling bugs. Others had heard he kept a kid on retainer to net butterflies in Honduras. But Yoshi Kojima also dabbled in the illicit. He bragged about bribing border officials so he could sneak endangered insects out of South America. He stole rare swallowtail butterflies from the eastern part of Mojave National Preserve and sold beautiful blue-tipped Papilio indra kaibabensis from Grand Canyon National Park. More....