Asian Tarantulas May Get Protection from Pet Trade

WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wednesday proposed endangered species status for five tarantulas from Sri Lanka, in response to a petition from the WildEarth Guardians conservation group. The large tree-dwelling spiders are impacted by loss of their forest habitat, pesticide use, intentional killing, climate change and collection for the exotic pet trade. “The existing laws and regulations are inadequate to address these ongoing threats,” the agency said.

The Guardians submitted their petition to list 11 tarantula species in India and Sri Lanka to the agency in October 2010, and the agency then published its response to the petition, called a 90-day petition finding, in December 2013, which noted that a further evaluation for all 11 species was needed. According to the Endangered Species Act, the agency is to make its initial finding as to whether a petition presents substantial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted within 90 days, “to the maximum extent practicable,” according to the 90-day finding.

The next step in the listing process is a more comprehensive evaluation of the information presented in the petition, plus additional information that is solicited for the 12-month status review, which in turn leads to the publication of a proposal to act on the petition.

The agency’s proposal to list five of the petitioned tarantulas as endangered species also serves as the 12-month status review in this case. A determination for the remaining six species will be published separately, after the agency completes its review, the action noted.

When asked why the 90-day finding was not published until three years after the petition was submitted, and why the 12-month status review did not publish for three years, the agency’s foreign species public affairs specialist, Vanessa Kaufman, told Courthouse News in an email, “Based on available resources the service is endeavoring to review species petitions and making expeditious progress.”

Despite the prolonged time lag, the Guardians are happy that five of the spiders have finally moved forward in the listing process. “We’re thrilled that these beautiful spiders, imperiled by human greed, are one step closer to protection,” the Guardian’s endangered species advocate, Taylor Jones, said. “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.”

The forested habitat of these spiders has been decimated over the past several decades, as land has been cleared for illegal timber harvests, fires, and clearing for development and agriculture. The pesticides used on crops are especially dangerous for these “sit and wait” predators, which are exposed to over 100 active ingredients in the herbicides, fungicides and insecticides that drift from nearby agricultural areas, the action noted. In addition, these “spiders are feared by humans in Sri Lanka and, as a result, are usually killed when encountered.”

“Tarantulas typically lead a hidden life, spending much of their time concealed inside burrows or crevices. They also tend to be sedentary and have poor dispersal ability, not moving far from the area in which they are born. As a result, they can be particularly vulnerable to habitat loss,” the agency said.

As the small populations of these spiders continue to shrink, collection for the exotic pet trade has a bigger effect. “Sri Lanka prohibits the commercial collection of all five spider species, but enforcement is difficult. Captive-bred spiders meet much of the trade demand, but even modest amounts of collection from the wild can negatively impact a small and shrinking population,” the Guardians said in response to the listing proposal.

A listing under the ESA can protect imperiled species from import, export, and interstate and foreign commerce, the agency noted. “By regulating these activities, the United States ensures that people under the jurisdiction of the United States do not contribute to the further decline of listed species,” the agency said.

The Guardians note that the ESA is important as a defense against the current extinction crisis, where “species are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct by 2006 if not for ESA protections. Listing species with international or global distribution can both protect the species domestically, and help focus U.S. resources toward enforcement of international regulation and recovery of the species.”

Comments on the listing proposal are due Feb. 13, 2017.