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Alumna Makes Strides in "Reptile" Education

Caroline Seitz

By Sabrina Tillman
Caroline Seitz, B.A. Speech Communication '95, began her self-proclaimed obsession with cobras at the curious age of three. After reading about cobras in the children's book Rikki Tikki Tavi, she knew that she wanted to spend the rest of her life studying these fascinating venomous creatures. Then, at age nine, she met a married couple who performed snake shows, called Snakes Alive. Enthralled with the idea of animal shows, Seitz quickly became a "groupie," following this couple around and finally deciding that this was exactly what she wanted to do.

Now, as a professional herpetologist and director of Reptiles Alive!, her days are spent caring for and feeding often-feared reptiles and amphibians like the caiman, pine snake, monitor lizard, and python, with which she shares her Annandale home. A typical day for her begins by loading them into a large van and driving to a school, park, zoo, fair, museum, or birthday party in order to teach people about the anatomy and behaviors of these animals.

In order to realize her goals, Seitz completed volunteer animal and nature programs for Fairfax County Park Authority as an adolescent. During college, she was employed as a park ranger with Virginia State Parks, a naturalist with Fairfax County Park Authority, a field herpetologist with an animal control company, and a wildlife educator with a local zoo. While attending George Mason, Seitz studied zoology in addition to communication, and she began a master's program in herpetology, but the demands of beginning her own animal-related business caused her to discontinue her graduate studies.

Reptiles Alive! offers all age groups the chance to learn about amphibians through educational programs, such as live shows and exhibits, field trips, and herpetological workshops. Before her showcases, Seitz sends schools education packages to prepare students for her program and help teachers integrate it into the curriculum. "My programs are very different from what people think," Seitz says. "Ninety percent of people become completely fascinated. Shows for the public tell stories about animals, are highly dramatic, highly interactive... I present animals, tell stories about how animals live in the wild, and students come up to demonstrate predator-prey relationships. I am like an actress performing a show... an educational show."

Seitz, who has taught herpetology courses at the Virginia Smithsonian Naturalist Center in Leesburg and conducted lecture series for local chapters of the Wildlife Rescue League and the Wildlife Center of Virginia, incorporates her teaching programs on capture, care, identification, history, and rehabilitation of these animals into her "Herpetological Husbandry," "Reptile Rehabilitation," and "Keeping Snakes out of Your Home" workshops (to name a few). Seitz stresses the importance of these informative workshops because many people buy these exotic animals from pet stores and are oblivious as to how to take care of them. "On display, many reptiles are ill, and the second people buy them, they might die. They probably will get ill eventually, because they pick up diseases from other animals in the store. Pet stores don't have a clue how to house animals, and they give faulty advice on how to take care of animals."

Another division of Seitz's business is her reptile rescue program. Through a slew of state permits, Seitz is lawfully allowed to house, care for, and exhibit wild animals in her Annandale home. These licenses also permit her to offer animal control services. For example, if a reptile is spotted somewhere and people do not know how to handle it, Seitz can house the animal until an appropriate home is found. Seitz also cares for injured animals and often releases the rehabilitated animal into the wild. "All [the] animals have been rescued... [and] sometimes they are released," she says. "We try never to keep wild animals because the ultimate goal is to get them to where they belong."

Despite having to overcome stereotypes when attempting to rescue animals as a field herpetologist ("We didn't expect a girl!"), she has never stopped attempting to care for these animals. In fact, Seitz decided to make the transition from field work to education because people constantly misjudged her. "People look at me and think, 'no way.' I would go to [a] big construction site to pick up a snake, and these huge guys would misjudge me because I am little and look like I am 18," says the 27-year-old Seitz.

However, Seitz did discover her niche in teaching the public through showcases by integrating her communication skills with her love of animals and nature. Now, many people call her to solve their animal dilemmas. While Seitz entertains the possibility of attending school again for business training, her dream now is to operate an educational and rehabilitation facility for animals that is open to the public.

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