Luren Augustine

Lauren helps a sea turtle sneak its way on to our salamander website.

Lauren helps a sea turtle sneak its way on to our salamander website.

My job: Herpetological Smack Talker

Real title: Animal Keeper, Reptile Discovery Center (RDC), Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park

Education: Currently working towards a M.S. in Conservation Science & Policy at George Mason University.

How I help save sallies: My job is to keep the zoo’s salamanders happy and to educate visitors about these incredible species. At the RDC we care for a diverse group of salamanders, including hellbenders, Japanese Giant Salamanders and red-back salamanders.  Every now and then I escape from my terrarium (RDC) and make it out to the field. This summer I helped Kim wrangle hellbenders in VA and PA. Along the way I engaged unsuspecting strangers in salamander outreach by opening conversations with one-liners like, “Are you from Jersey Shore?”. Lastly, in early 2012, I established a grass-roots initiative called “Chopsticks For Salamanders” that promotes forest stewardship and provides funding for salamander conservation, research and outreach (www.ChopsticksforSalamanders.org).

Best salamander story: The first time I went looking for hellbenders was in 2005 with a scientist from North Carolina. There was a large group of us walking down a wide stretch of river, when suddenly I saw a large, flat ‘rock’ moving toward me. I screamed and jumped out of the water yelling, “I found one, I found one!” After this major overreaction, I returned to the water and caught the hellbender — the first of the day.  We proceeded to catch about 5 more hellbenders that day, and every person in the group made sure to mimic my reaction when they spotted a salamander.

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