Interview with RICK C. WEST - original version

ARACNOFILIA: Mr. West You are the most important expert of Theraphosids on the wild. In the still troubled sea of the "new entomology" that, compared with the past move towards arthropods from a more naturalistic point of view, You seem to be on the opposite shore of enthusiast groups like ours that study, keep and breed arachnids in captivity. How can You judge our activity? Do You think we serve a useful purpose in the world of arachnology?

RICK C. WEST: Ethically and morally it's wrong to take a wild animal from it's environment and keep it in captivity, yet, many people do. The bigger moral issue is how you keep and what you do with that animal (tarantulas as well) once you have acquired it ... whether legally or illegally.
Personally, I try to learn what I can about tarantulas in their atural environment. But, if this is not possible, I will collect (with permits, if required from those countries) and study them in captivity so as I might contribute some knowledge towards their atural history or biology. To merely acquire and keep a wild animal or tarantula in captivity for the sake of 'having it', I think, is wrong.
I don't believe much scientific knowledge about tarantulas has been gained from tarantula enthusiasts. The only significant benefit I've seen towards tarantulas from the hobby is the reduction of people's misbeliefs and fear towards this large spider.
Additionally, the keeping of tarantulas may have inspired a few hobbyists to pursue careers in arachnology. Other than that, I've not seen too much else attributed to the science of tarantulas from tarantula enthusiasts.

ARACNOFILIA: Scientists say that the worst enemy of theraphosids is man that keep on destroying their own environment. Your great passion has taken You to over fourteen countries to study tarantulas in the wild. What can You say about it? Is there a real thread of extinction? And do You think that tarantulas breeding overseas, could help to save them?

RICK C. WEST: Sadly, this is true. Humankind, by it's very nature to survive, procreate and improve it's life, is using up the natural resources around him ... especially in some of those countries where tarantulas live. An example of a possible manmade tarantula extinction is the Jamaican tarantula, Cyrtopholis jamaicola. It's their extinction is due to man's interference and introduction of the Cane toad and mongoose to aid sugar cane production. There are several other threatened tarantulas that live in rapidly diminishing habitats due to human encroachment.
In my 38 years of being associated with keeping and studying tarantulas, I've never seen a single tarantula species that can be bred to meet the demands of the commercial pet trade. The collecting and supplying of wild tarantulas for the pet trade may
be reduced, but fresh stock will always be needed, especially by breeders. Additionally, there is always the allure of wanting that'new species' that has never been offered on the pet trade before. The more colorful or ornate the tarantulas is, the more pressure is put on it's natural and fragile wild populations. It's the old vicious circle of 'supply and demand'. There are always people who will go get and sell something, either legally or illegally, if there's a demand for it. Tarantula hobbyists, by their very interest to acquire tarantulas, cause part of the decline in some species or irreparable damage to some fragile wild populations.

RICK C. WEST: Because of the current rate at which habitat is being destroyed, most of the animals that are threatened or endangered will disappear regardless of how many are exported. Removing a part of these animals from their natural habitat ultimately will have a so awful effect? In captivity, many of these creatures will have a passing chance at survival in captive breeding populations maintained by enthusiasts, a possibility which doesn't exist if they are allowed to be exterminated in the wild. This has already happened with many species of animals...

RICK C. WEST: I regret to say that there is not a single tarantula (or spider) species that can be sustained by captive breeding to meet the demands of the commercial pet trade. Many breeders have argued that tarantula species, like Poecilotheria spp., are being captive bred in numbers that prevent specimens being taken from the wild, however, upon investigation with foreign Wildlife and Customs agencies, and with speaking to 'truthful' tarantula dealers, I have found that many adult tarantulas are still being illegally taken from the wild and sold as 'captive bred' on the pet trade. Many tarantula hobbyists don't like to hear these truths or could care less. Yes, breeding tarantulas and selling their offspring slows their demise but does not stop tarantulas from being taken from the wild. For those tarantula hobbyists that want to feel better, and not think that their hobby is affecting tarantula populations, human development and population expansion is definitely causing far worst destruction to fauna and flora - worldwide.

interview by Matteo Grotto

VERSIONE INGLESE Clicca per visualizzare l'intervista in lingua italiana.

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