En­dan­gered list irks Taran­tula fans

Worry fed­eral list­ing will make breed­ing dif­fi­cult

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY VA­LERIE RICHARDSON

Taran­tula col­lec­tors have no fear when it comes to their fa­vorite large, hairy pets, but U.S. breed­ers are scared to death of a Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice pro­posal that would list the species as en­dan­gered.

Cit­ing threats from de­for­esta­tion, habi­tat loss, pes­ti­cide use and cli­mate change, the agency pro­posed last week giv­ing pro­tec­tion to five species na­tive to Sri Lanka — known as the Poe­cilothe­ria spi­ders — un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act.

The pe­ti­tion to list the taran­tu­las comes af­ter a six-year cam­paign by WildEarth Guardians, which first sub­mit­ted in 2010 a pe­ti­tion call­ing for fed­eral pro­tec­tion for 11 species, in­clud­ing six found in In­dia.

“We’re thrilled that these beau­ti­ful spi­ders, im­per­iled by hu­man greed, are one step closer to pro­tec­tion,” said Tay­lor Jones, the en­dan­gered species ad­vo­cate for WildEarth Guardians. “We hope this list­ing en­cour­ages con­ser­va­tion and raises aware­ness about the plight of these species in the wild and the per­ils of the ex­otic pet trade.”

But U.S. col­lec­tors have raised an alarm about such a list­ing, say­ing that the added layer of reg­u­la­tion ac­tu­ally could re­duce the species’ num­bers by dis­cour­ag­ing taran­tula breed­ing.

Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice spokes­woman Vanessa Kauff­man said list­ing the taran­tu­las would al­low the agency to re­quire per­mits for U.S. cit­i­zens seek­ing to im­port the spi­ders or buy or sell them across state lines.

“We can’t en­force this in other coun­tries, but we can en­force this with peo­ple who try to bring them [taran­tu­las] into the United States,” said Ms. Kauff­man.

The Amer­i­can Taran­tula So­ci­ety urged its mem­bers to sub­mit com­ments by the Feb. 13 dead­line pro­vid­ing “clear, con­cise and pro­fes­sional com­men­tary re­gard­ing the an­i­mals we keep and our ef­forts in the cap­tive-bred hobby.”

“Should the ESA list­ing oc­cur, these 5 species will be il­le­gal to trans­port across state lines, likely en­sur­ing that le­gal prop­a­ga­tion of cap­tive-bred pop­u­la­tions will grind to a stand­still,” said the so­ci­ety.

The U.S. As­so­ci­a­tion of Rep­tile Keep­ers said the agency needs to take into ac­count the num­ber of do­mes­ti­cally bred taran­tu­las as well as the po­ten­tial im­pact of the per­mit­ting re­quire­ments.

“For species listed as en­dan­gered, both par­ties of the trans­ac­tion must have ex­pen­sive and very dif­fi­cult to ob­tain cap­tive-bred wildlife per­mits,” said the as­so­ci­a­tion. “This per­mit al­lows sales within the U.S. of U.S. cap­tive-bred an­i­mals. Per­mit ap­pli­ca­tions may take up to a year for ap­proval or de­nial.”

In its pro­posed Fed­eral Regis­ter list­ing, the agency ac­knowl­edged that cap­tive-bred taran­tu­las “ap­pear to sup­ply the ma­jor­ity of the cur­rent le­gal trade in these species, at least in the United States,” and that the num­bers of those still be­ing cap­tured in the wild is un­known.

At the same time, “even small amounts of col­lec­tion of species with small pop­u­la­tions can have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the species,” said the agency.

“Given that ev­i­dence in­di­cates that low lev­els of col­lec­tion of at least some of these species from the wild con­tin­ues to oc­cur, it is likely that col­lec­tion for trade is ex­ac­er­bat­ing pop­u­la­tion ef­fects of other fac­tors neg­a­tively im­pact­ing these species, such as habi­tat loss and degra­da­tion, and sto­chas­tic pro­cesses,” said the pro­posal.

With their strik­ing pat­terns and col­ors, the Sri Lanka taran­tu­las are prized within the cap­tive-pet trade. Most taran­tu­las in the United States are bred do­mes­ti­cally, but some are still smug­gled out of Sri Lanka de­spite laws against com­mer­cial col­lec­tion.

Nocturnal, soli­tary and seden­tary, taran­tu­las live con­cealed in wooded bur­rows and tree crevices in trop­i­cal and sub­trop­i­cal cli­mates. The spi­ders that do en­counter hu­mans are typ­i­cally males search­ing for fe­males or those in search of prey.

The taran­tu­las may be too creepy for their own good. In Sri Lanka, lo­cals who ac­ci­den­tally run across the spi­ders tend to re­act with­out fac­tor­ing in their dwin­dling num­bers or propen­sity to hide from hu­mans.

“Poe­cilothe­ria spi­ders are feared by hu­mans in Sri Lanka and, as a re­sult, are usu­ally killed when en­coun­tered,” said the agency.

How of­ten does that hap­pen? It’s im­pos­si­ble to know for cer­tain.

“We are not aware of any in­for­ma­tion on the num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als of the pe­ti­tioned species that are in­ten­tion­ally killed by peo­ple,” the pro­posal said. “How­ever, in ar­eas where these species oc­cur, higher hu­man den­si­ties are likely to re­sult in higher hu­man con­tact with these species and, con­se­quently, higher num­bers of spi­ders killed.”

The Sri Lankan taran­tu­las are also poi­sonous, us­ing their venom to par­a­lyze their prey, and bites to hu­mans are painful but not life-threat­en­ing.

“They are known for their very fast move­ments and po­tent venom that, in hu­mans, typ­i­cally causes ex­tended mus­cle cramps and se­vere pain,” said the pro­posal.

The ser­vice cur­rently lists 1,268 for­eign wildlife and plant species un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act, along with 8,553 do­mes­tic species. An­other 20 for­eign species were rec­om­mended as can­di­dates for list­ing by the agency in an Oct. 17 pro­posal.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Taran­tu­las are the heav­i­est and hairi­est spi­ders on the planet. U.S. breed­ers of these spi­ders are fret­ting over a pe­ti­tion to list five species as en­dan­gered un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act, fear­ing that the move would ac­tu­ally hurt the pop­u­la­tion.

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