Johannesburg - It was not a job for the squeamish, but it ultimately saved several hundred baboon spiders.
The job entailed moving two species from a construction site, where a road was being widened at Exxaro’s Grootegeluk mine, near Lephalale in Limpopo.
When workers began clearing vegetation from the site, they noticed spider burrows.
The two species – the golden brown baboon and the burst horned-baboon spider – are not endangered, but are protected under the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act as they are often caught for the pet trade.
Moving the spiders had never been done on such a big scale before and a project team was set up that included Exxaro ecologist Koos Smit, research manager at Manketti game reserve Marius Fuls and invertebrate expert Dr Dawid Jacobs of Pretoria University.
The species are remarkably sedentary. They spend most of their lives in a single burrow, venturing out at night to hunt but keeping close to home.
Collecting the spiders meant digging around the burrow, then picking the creatures up by hand.
“Each of these spiders can be handled by hand, they are very docile animals,” said Fuls.
Out of the about 400 spiders handled, there were just two bites.
And being bitten, according to Jacobs, is no big deal. “It is a bit like a bee sting,” he said.
The spiders’ new home was nearby Manketti game reserve.
Burrows were dug and steel cages placed over them to stop them escaping.
To everyone’s surprise, the spiders readily took to their new homes.
“We found 95 percent of the spiders accepted their burrows within 48 hours,” said Fuls.
As news got out of the project, other construction companies also began sending spiders.
The team found that even ash didn’t worry the spiders.
Sixty were relocated to the rehabilitated Matimba power station ash dump. Part of their burrows were dug into the ash, and the spiders set up home.
It is hoped the experiment will help in the future with other spiders.
“This is a big plus,” said Jacobs.
“Now that we have established a way to relocate baboon spiders, we can move some of the really rare species if they need to be relocated.” - The Star