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Cambodian Spiders Under Threat

Giant spiders might not look appetizing, but in Cambodia they are considered a delicacy. First eaten by starving refugees during the Khmer Rouge era in the late 1970s, they are now a popular snack in Cambodia. They are so popular their numbers are now in decline.

People travel from all over Cambodia to the town of Skun, north of the capital Phnom Penh, to eat giant spiders.

Black, hairy and about the size of your palm, they build their nests in the forests around the small town. Every day thousands are sold in the town's big spider market.

Fried in garlic and herbs, the spiders are piled high on wooden trays and sold to passing motorists.

Giant spiders are an important source of income for this poor farming community. In an area where most people earn about $1 a day, each spider costs about 50 cents. But despite their high cost, many Cambodians are reluctant to give up their favorite treat.

Spider catcher Youk Sambath says that nothing tastes as good as spider meat.

He says it is so delicious - it tastes a lot like fish, but also crunchy like a crab.

As well as being eaten, spiders are marinated in rice wine, which is sold as a healthy tonic.

Local farmer Yeam Soun says spider wine is good for your health:

He says when he drinks spider wine it makes his muscles feel better and his blood run well, and besides that, he says, he just loves the taste.

Local historian Tek Nem says the taste for spiders began during the Pol Pot regime when they were eaten by starving refugees:

He says that at that time there was little to eat and people survived on two cups of watery soup a day. So, he says, they began to eat things like geckos, scorpions and giant spiders and that is when they discovered how good they taste.

Spiders have become so popular in Cambodia that some fear that they could be hunted to extinction. Although exact figures on the spider population are unclear, local sellers confirm their numbers are in sharp decline.

Spider seller Ni Chanmom blames farmers for destroying the spider's nests:

She says that there were a lot of spiders until farmers began to cut and burn the forest where the spiders build their nests. She says that when that happened the spiders ran away and nobody knows where they went.

With over-hunting and slash and burn agriculture continuing to accelerate, there are concerns that Cambodia's giant spiders could be wiped out altogether.

Without urgent measures to protect them, Cambodia's favorite treat could become a thing of the past.