Our cracking new blog series, taking you behind the scenes with our super staff, keeps rolling with part IV. This week our in-house Reptile Encounters Reporter meets Dan ‘lizard-man’ Mangano!
Our very own lizard-man Dan Mangano
Reptile Encounters Reporter: Dan, let’s get this show on the road. What sparked your love for wildlife?
Dan Mangano: I’ve been passionate about Australian wildlife since I was very young, but unlike many young kids, I decided to turn that passion into a career. My passion has always been Australian wildlife, due to the fact that so many of our species are unique to Australia and unlike anything else in the world!
I’m especially interested in endangered species. I am always reading up on the work being done to protect them, and I love educating the public on what can be done to preserve our unique Australian wildlife. I absolutely love lizards, and I have a real soft spot for the Shingleback, or stumpy-tailed lizard!
Growing up, I kept many species of reptiles and even today I have a constantly growing menagerie at home made up of lizards, birds and a very grumpy python named Jax. Most of my experience has been with keeping lizards. I have kept a whole bunch of bluetongue species, Shinglebacks (of course), Cunningham’s skinks, dragons, geckos and recently my interests have turned to smaller skinks. That’s right, those little things running around your garden that you never really thought twice about? I keep half a dozen odd species of small skink and will hopefully keep even more soon.
RER: Excellent! So what attracts you to lizards, skinks in particular?
DM: Well, there is such a huge diversity amongst them – there are literally hundreds of species of small skink in Australia. Some only a few centimetres long, some with amazing colours, some with complicated social structures and dynamics… and all with personalities far too big for their little frames. Little Man Syndrome in action!
One of the many species of Australian Skink
I have also spent a fair amount of time out in the bush, searching for reptiles in the wild around Victoria and even interstate. I have seen all manner of dragons, geckos, skinks (woo!), and snakes in their natural habitat, amongst other things like birds and marsupials and, as much as I love observing my captive groups, there’s nothing quite like seeing them in the wild. For me, that’s what it’s all about.
Keeping species in captivity, using those animals to educate the public, fostering a love for animals people find ‘weird’ or ‘gross’ because they’re not soft and fluffy. It’s all about making sure those wild populations stay healthy and safe in a world where human expansion is creeping closer to them every day.
RER: And tell us a bit about your time with at Reptile Encounters.
DM: Well, after studying a Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Biosciences, I began working with Reptile Encounters in July 2014. I like being able to work with such a large range of Australian wildlife, and love being able to introduce people to species that they’ve never even heard of before, especially the endangered ones who need our help.
RER: Great! So what has been your most unforgettable moment from a Reptile Encounters show?
DM: I did a show for a special care group, who looked after adults with Down Syndrome. Almost the whole group were right into it, patting and taking turns holding the animals while I spoke, except for one older gentleman who sat with his face to the wall and wanted nothing to do with it. At least he didn’t until Johnny the Freshwater Croc came out to say hi. He turned around, and was instantly transfixed on Johnny with a look of sheer awe on his face!
When it came time to have a hold, he shot out of his seat, and wanted a hold straight away. After he had his turn, he stood in front of me, pointed at my shirt and said, “What’s that?”. As I looked down, he flicked me on the nose with a loud “BOOP!”. Oldest trick in the book, and I didn’t see it coming! Everyone instantly erupted with laughter, myself included, and he then gave me a big hug. One of the funniest and most rewarding moments I’ve had so far.
RER: What a lovely story! Now, let’s get into your favourite animals… give us your top two.
DM: My first choice has to be the Shingleback (Tiliqua rugosa). It’s from drier parts of southern Australia and as far up as central Queensland. They’re amazing to look at, have great personalities and, despite being big, slow and a seemingly easy target for predators, they are common to abundant across much of their home range. True Aussie battlers!
The Shingleback, or stumpy-tailed lizard
For my second choice, I’ll go for the yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funereus), which inhabits much of the Eastern Australian coastline, through Southern Victorian and into Southern Australia. It’s a big, gorgeous cockatoo with an amazing call that instantly makes me stop and run outside to see if they’re nearby! I saw a flock of 300+ birds in the North East suburbs as a kid and have been in love with them ever since.
RER: Nice picks! And now, the same question, but your top two Reptile Encounters animals?
DM: My first pick is definitely Penny, our absolutely gorgeous Mary River Turtle (Elusor macrurus). She’s going to grow up to be one of the largest freshwater turtles in Australia and she can breath through her bum! Mary River turtles are also extremely endangered have a very tragic backstory about how species can be decimated by ignorance and greed.
Penny the Mary River turtle
For my second pick I’ll go with Johnny, our Freshwater Crocodile (Crocodylus johnstoni). He’s our only freshy, looks awesome and is very easy to handle… once the tape is on! Everyone knows Saltwater crocs, but many people cast freshies aside as the “lesser” of the two, which I don’t think is fair. Freshies are awesome!
RER: Fantastic. So, last but definitely not least, give us your weirdest animals fact, Dan… …
DM: In far north QLD, in a pocket of pristine rainforest, lives a gecko called the Chameleon gecko (Carphodactylus laevis). Like many of the other geckos species, as well as smaller skinks and pygopods (legless lizards) that we get here in Australia, it can drop its tail when threatened, and regenerate a new
one. The recently dropped tail of all of these animals will wriggle and writhe around to distract the predator, but the Chameleon gecko takes it a step further. If a tail that has been regenerated is dropped, whilst it wriggles around, it squeaks loudly too! Imagine being a bird, chasing what seems like a decent and easy meal, and then all of a sudden your dinner breaks in half, wriggles wildly and starts screaming at you! You’d probably leave it alone too! And weirdest of all, it only seems to be the regenerated tails that squeak. When the gecko drops it’s original tail, we don’t actually know if that squeaks too. Weird!