“Rebecca Renner is the best thing about Florida,”
which is a weird way of calling me a beach.
Anyway, hello. You made it here somehow. It’s nice to have you. You’re probably hoping I’ll talk about myself here, so I guess I can do that, even though that puts me through the pain of being known.
Here are the bullet points:
- I write mostly for National Geographic.
- Sometimes my work finds its way to other cool places like The New York Times, Outside Magazine, Sierra, Tin House, Paris Review, et cetera et cetera et cetera.
- I used to be a high school English teacher, which means I can do anything.
- I have an MFA in fiction writing, and I came to journalism by accident. Oops?
- Hear me out: Swamps are actually wonderful. They’re biodiversity hotspots. Quit hating on wetlands.
- Sharks and alligators are cute. Fight me.
“The first time I heard the story of Operation Alligator Thief, it came to me as a rumor from one of my high school students. He and I had already been talking about poaching, storytelling, and thornier questions like, “Who owns nature? Is it right for anyone to make that claim?” When this student told me about Operation Alligator Thief, the rumors had blown some facts of the case out of proportion while entirely underplaying others. He described the undercover officer as a shapeshifter who had created a fake alligator farm to catch poachers, like a trap out of a movie. In other words, it all sounded too bizarre to be true. Yet, as Floridians, my student and I knew better: here, the truth is often stranger than fiction.
Wanting to know what really happened, we asked around about the story, but neither of us could find a trace of the officer behind it all. He had disappeared before the sting began, and no one without inside information could find him. In my journalism career, I’ve found that challenges, rather than discouraging me, compel me to try harder, to look deeper. So no matter how many challenges I faced with this story, I could never quite let it go. A few years later, after I had quit teaching to write full-time, a former intelligence operative helped me track Jeff down, and I talked to him on the phone several times before he opened up enough to really tell me his story. It’s almost funny to look back on the days when Jeff didn’t trust me yet, because now he’ll text me out of the blue like it’s no big deal—because it isn’t! That’s fresh in my mind, because he texted me right before I sat down to do this interview.” Read the full interview here.