Spinning support for spiders

ZSL London Zoo’s ‘Friendly Spider Programme’ has been converting spider-squishers into bug lovers for an incredible quarter of a century – making fears disappear for 25 years and funding ZSL’s vital field conservation work across a number of  invertebrate species in the process. 

Alex Murphy in the In with the Spiders exhibit

Today (2 May) saw a bevy of stars swap the red carpet for red-kneed spiders at ZSL London Zoo, as celebrities such as Claudia Fragapane, Kat Shoob and Fleur East took the brave step of undertaking the Friendly Spider Programme to help overcome their arachnophobia. 

Since 1993 the programme has been converting arachnophobes and to celebrate this landmark the Zoo’s team of experts, along with hypnotherapist John Clifford, took on the challenge of helping an Olympic gymnast, comedians, actors and presenters all overcome their fear of the much-maligned creature.

Run in partnership with Centre of Clinical Hypnosis, the Zoo’s afternoon course, which combines a range of techniques including cognitive behavioural therapy and hypnotherapy, works to ease or eliminate the condition of arachnophobia – the fear of spiders. 

Last year (2017) alone saw 240 participants, ranging from 80 to just eight years old, walk into ZSL London Zoo’s B.U.G.S. house to bravely face their fears. With 86 per cent of participants successfully reporting they now remain calm, confident and relaxed when they encounter a spider following the course, the extraordinary results speak for themselves. The successful programme even saw most participants choose to handle Carol, the Zoo’s resident bird-eating spider, by the end of the session.

The landmark course has seen over 5,000 arachnophobes, many travelling from as far away as Europe, Australia and North America to take part, raising thousands for important but often overlooked invertebrates such as Polynesian partula tree snails and British field crickets.

Joe McFadden with Carol the Mexican red knee tarantula

Dave Clarke, ZSL Head Keeper of Invertebrates and course leader said: “We made it our mission to squash as many myths about spiders as possible, while helping people with their phobia.

“One fact about our eight-legged friends, which many people are unaware of, is that they are incredibly valuable ecologically in keeping the number of pest insects like flies down, and therefore helping control human diseases. 

“Marking 25 years of this unique programme is a phenomenal achievement and I thoroughly enjoy being part of the excellent, caring team here at ZSL who make the course possible. 

“What makes this programme that little more extraordinary is how we are able to use the funds raised from this course to support the conservation work we do to help preserve the countless endangered invertebrate species around the world.”

Course fees over the years have directly supported a number of wildlife conservation projects for invertebrates, including the successful reintroduction of the native semi-aquatic Fen raft spider, which is listed as Endangered in the UK, but is now increasing its range due to conservation efforts.  

The Friendly Spider Programme at ZSL London Zoo is available to book now. The half-day course is £135 per adult plus concessions, and fees from the course will continue to fund invertebrate conservation projects.   

Find out more about the Friendly Spider Programme 

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