SAN ANGELO, Texas — Austin Osmanski, 26, may be a proven example that success occurs when hard work meets opportunity.
Osmanski, a San Angelo native, went from Ph.D. student studying evolutionary biology at Texas Tech University to hunting a large crocodilian species in the Bolivian rainforest for the Discovery Channel.
“We had a telephone call from the Discovery Channel,” Osmanski said. “That’s really how it happened. It was just some random fluke phone call one afternoon and we were on our way to Bolivia.”
The Discovery Channel contacted Texas Tech in November looking for a scientist who studied crocodiles to appear on its new television show “Trailblazers.”
The show follows three elite survivalists, all with military backgrounds, as they lead teams of scientists through regions of the world in search of clues and discoveries that could lead to scientific breakthroughs.
One of the missions was to include a trek through the far northwest region of Bolivia to capture a rare black caiman and extract its DNA.
Discovery soon selected Osmanski to be a scientist on the show because of his expertise in reptilian studies as well as his eccentric personality, Osmanski said. Just two weeks later he found himself bound for Bolivia to go hunting for caimans.
Osmanski said the network planned to air six episodes of “Trailblazers,” and three have been shown. The remaining three episode are on hold by the network, he said. The first three episodes are available to view at discoverygo.com/trailblazers.
Osmanski played football at Central High School and graduated from Angelo State University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology. He said his passion for nature came from his father, a lay naturalist who enjoys bass fishing, hunting and catching lizards in their home garden and is knowledgeable about the tremendous biodiversity of West Texas.
“When I was a kid, we were constantly catching lizards, snakes and turtles,” he said. “Having little pets underneath my bed, Mom would get mad because I had a snake underneath my bed.”
Osmanksi said his mother nonetheless provided the foundation or him to pursue his passion.
“She was really an enabler, my mother,” Osmanski said. “One time I had this snake underneath my bed in a shoe box and then she came in and she found this snake and she was like, ‘What are you doing?’ And then instead of saying, ‘Don’t ever touch snakes, don’t ever put things underneath your bed in a shoebox,’ she bought me an aquarium so then I could have more snakes.”
Osmanski and a camera crew spent more than two weeks filming 12 hour days in Bolivia in constant rain and humid weather, surrounded by natural dangers of the jungle. The team trekked up-river in a boat for about 20 miles from Rurrenabaque, Bolivia, to a lake called Lago Gringo, where the locals reported seeing massive caimans swimming.
“When we got down there, they turned the cameras on and said, ‘OK you have two weeks to go catch a caiman. Good luck,’ ” Osmanski said, laughing. “I’ve never been to that part of the rainforest before. Talk about a paradise. It really is something special down there.”
Osmanski, alongside two other scientists, ate freeze dried food packets, slept in a hammock and was woken each morning by Howler monkeys
“The first night I woke up in the rainforest in my hammock, these howler monkeys above you just ‘ROARRRR’ and you’re like, ‘What is that?’ ” Osmanski said. “It’s a frightening noise.”
Osmanski said his team eventually found a caiman in the waters of Lago Gringo and was able to capture it using a lasso.
Osmanski said the most memorable part of the journey was sitting around a campfire each night with the other scientists and talking about crocodile biology for hours on end.
“Instead of just going with a film crew along a linear path of a story line, I’d like to go down there and do my own story line,” he said. “What can we learn from this area, spend more time there and see what other discoveries are to make down in Bolivia.”
Osmanski said he lost 10 pounds during the experience because of the amount of work put into filming while being in a rainforest. He said all the money made participating in the show went back to support his research, the crocodile genome project at Texas Tech.
Acquiring his Ph.D. his the most important thing in his life right now, he said, and is paramount to his success.
“To sum it all up, follow what you most like to do, and the money — I guess and all that stuff — would come eventually. But I love catching snakes and I love catching animals, and I’m on the Discovery Channel catching crocodiles and caimans,” Osmanksi said. “Because if you like what you do, you will work hardest at that. And then if you’re the hardest-working person at catching animals, then you will be the world’s expert on catching animals. Everything will fall in place if you just keep trying and you do what you love.”
Find the original story at gosanangelo.com.