Why Tarantulas Are Underappreciated and Valuable Pets
As one who, admittedly, spends most of my energy on those areas of the pet trade that are the focus of the greatest amount of legislation, the tarantula trade was not a sector that I had much experience with. Fortunately, I accepted an invitation from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) to the Tarantula Trinational Trade and Enforcement Workshop, which was held Feb. 27-March 2.
The CEC is an intergovernmental organization formed in 1994 among North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners to address environmental issues of continental concern, including the environmental challenges and opportunities presented by continent-wide free trade (Commission for Environmental Cooperation, n.d.). As part of a CEC–funded project, “strengthening conservation and sustainable production of selected CITES Appendix II species in North America,” tarantulas were identified as a priority taxa to address.
An Action Plan was developed as part of this effort. One of the Action items called for assembling representatives from the U.S., Canadian and Mexican governments for the aforementioned Workshop. These representatives were joined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), tarantula breeders, businesses that import and sell tarantulas to explore market-based conservation efforts, and others.
What I learned was that the U.S. tarantula trade includes importations from Germany, the Netherlands and Mexico. Additionally, the demand for tarantulas far exceeds the available supply.
Mexican Brachypelma tarantulas are listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix II. This means that they cannot be imported or exported without permits certifying that the specimens are either captive bred or wild caught. Since the trade in tarantulas is of captive-bred specimens and breeding them in Mexico helps promote their conservation, the sale of Mexican tarantulas to the United States or Canada requires the cooperative efforts of the breeders and the government in the exporting country.
While German breeding facilities may have higher production and shipping costs for providing tarantulas to the North American market, the efficiency of the permit approval process allows them to more rapidly respond to demand. Mexico, on the other hand, has the benefits of lower production and shipping costs, but struggles with obtaining funding to establish breeding facilities and processing export permit requests efficiently.
The CEC Workshop focused on how to change the status quo and provide benefits to the Mexican breeders and local communities while benefiting tarantula conservation in the wild. It partnered government and industry representatives with Mexican breeders to explore funding sources and bureaucratic solutions that could benefit both the economy and conservation. The establishment of the Unidades de Manejo para la Conservación de la Vida Silvestre (UMA) will be critical in deriving those benefits.
UMAs will be an important tool in improving conservation, replenishment of wild populations and providing responsibly-sourced captive-bred tarantulas for the retail market. These facilities sell a portion of the animals that they breed in order to finance the breeding of other specimens which are released into the wild to replenish the population. While the Mexican government has contributed to establishing UMAs, the process of applying for the funds is complex and the allocations are inconsistent. Investment by U.S. or Canadian importers could aid greatly in the establishment of these UMAs, which would help to meet demand and eventually become self-sustaining.
Once the supply of CITES-compliant inventory is addressed, the challenge becomes navigating the bureaucratic requirements to export the specimens. While this was a major subject of discussion at the workshop, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) is investigating the possibility of hosting a separate meeting for industry and government representatives to develop streamlined processes to facilitate this trade. PIJAC has done similar work for the export of reptiles from the United States.
Please contact me at Bob@pijac.org if you want to be part of PIJAC’s efforts in this part of the trade.
Robert Likins is the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) vice president of government affairs. Since 1970, PIJAC has protected pets, pet owners and the pet industry—promoting responsible pet ownership and animal welfare, fostering environmental stewardship, and ensuring the availability of pets. PIJAC members include retailers, companion animal suppliers, manufacturers, wholesale distributors, manufacturers’ representatives, pet hobbyists, and other trade organizations.