Page 1 of 3 | 2005 Interview by Michael Jacobi Photo by William Lamar
Michael Jacobi: Thanks for agreeing to do this, Rick. I know many arachnid hobbyists, particularly those interested in theraphosid spiders, are very interested in learning more about you and your work. You are considered to be one of the worldÍs leading authorities on tarantulas and you have been inVolved in film productions, scientific consultation for researchers and wildlife law enforcement, educational lectures, field work and ecotravel. You have authored many papers and articles about theraphosid spiders and are an accomplished photographer. In addition, you are also an arachnoculturist Æ keeping and breeding tarantulas in captivity for many years. Is there one specific endeavor that you have found particularly satisfying?
Rick C. West: Thank you for inviting me. Your question is not an easy one to answer but I will try by saying there is no single endeavor about my work that I find particularly satisfying. In reality, all aspects surrounding my association with tarantulas over the past forty years have blended into one enormously satisfying and giant interwoven endeavor Æ the tarantulas, travel to exotic places, the history and geography of the countries, the natural history of the fauna and flora encountered, the cultures, the photography, forging new friendships, conservation and enforcement issues, the notoriety, and much more.
MJ: Your field work has taken you all over the world. I am sure many readers dream of going to just one of the places you have been fortunate enough to visit. If one of them could choose just one trip for observing and collecting tarantulas in his or her lifetime, what would be your recommended destination?
RCW: French Guiana. This small country, a department of France bordering Brazil, is relatively safe and is easy to drive and get around in. In my opinion, French Guiana is one of the least populated little countries still with a large percentage of primary rainforest and diversity of interesting fauna, flora and tarantulas.
MJ: Will you be working with GreenTracks or another company on any ecotours in the near future?
RCW: I'm presently working out the ground logistics and pricing with GreenTracks for future trips to French Guiana Æ we will see if trips ever materialize as there are so many things to consider and work out on the business side of ecotourism.
MJ: Your travels have also exposed you to many cultures and peoples. Your interactions with the Piaroa Indians of Venezuela have been documented. Is there another native people that you have found especially interesting or friendly?
RCW: Again, not an easy single-answer question. The Mambila 'Spider Sorcerer' who demonstrated spider divination to me in Cameroon, and correctly predicted my unborn grandchild's gender, was very pleasant and extremely interesting. The Ese Eje shaman in southern Peru who took me through the 'ayahuasca [a powerful hallucinogenic drink] healing ceremony' and told me tarantula myths was also a rare and interesting individual. I've come in contact with many other indigenous cultures over tarantula spiders but the previous two encounters, next to the Piaroa Indians of southern Venezuela that most readers are more familiar with, are two encounters that stand above all the others.