Don Danko from Cleveland, Ohio, very well known president of the Ohio Cichlid Association, represents the good things that the Cichlid keeping hobby can bring to you. As he has been successful in every area of it. A great breeder, photographer, experienced collector, article writter, promoter by taking positions in organizations, like board of trustees of the American Cichlid Association and the Ohio cichlid Association and a good friend. Don has every bit of experience that people can learn from to develop into this fantastic hobby. This interview took place by e-mail during June 1999. Thanks Don!
Don thanks for this interview, this is the classic question. How did your love for fish was born?
Thank you, Juan Miguel for asking me to participate.
To begin, I was a nature lover as a child. When I was quite young, we moved into a new house that was on the edge of the woods and much wildlife lived there. There were creeks and ponds loaded with native fish and frogs and the like. So, I was always bringing some animal home to keep. If it wasn't fish, it was a garter snake, a box turtle or a toad. In that neighborhood, some of my friends kept fish and I wanted my own tanks as well. Until I later got a real aquarium, I kept guppies and other fish in small fish bowls.
How was your dad involved in encouraging your hobby?
When I was in third grade, I had a nasty playground accident and incurred a lacerated cornea. The eye surgeon (to whom I am eternally grateful) suggested to my father that I get an aquarium to aid in the rehabilitation of the eye after surgery. So, for Christmas, I got a really nice 15 gallon setup. I had a great time with that tank and kept community fish and grew nice plants (something that I can't do today!).
My father was a cichlid lover on a minor scale. After I got started with my tank at home, he put in a tank at his office at work. And in it, he had a great mix of classic cichlids: Jack Dempseys, Lemon severums, convicts and firemouths. All of these were crammed into a 20 gallon high aquarium! As a kid, I was captivated by all those cool cichlids that I always read about.
He also let me set up more tanks in another room in the basement. So, I set up a pair of Dempseys from his work tank and later bred them. It was funny, because we always kept the male and female divided and he also warned me to keep it that way. But I got brave when I thought they were courting and let them in together. After a few days, they spawned and we watched that wonderful cichlid behavior, from cleaning the substrate to herding the fry around the tank.
Throughout my schooling, my parents allowed me to keep a couple of aquariums around, sometimes in my bedroom. I mostly kept large native fish, like bluegills, bass and rock bass that I caught on hook and line.
So you can see that my father furthered my fish interest in at least a few ways.
Don what have fish brought to your life?
The fish hobby has actually expanded my horizons in quite a few ways other than just keeping the fish. Of course, keeping cichlids and other fish have brought me much enjoyment and fulfillment when I have spawned new species. However, this hobby has helped me grow in other areas. For instance, after writing my first several articles, I wanted to enhance the quality of my articles and make future ones much more than just a 'how I spent my summer vacation' report. I noticed that the better articles all had photographs. So, I embarked on learning how to take aquarium photos. I purchased a used Pentax camera and later a used Nikon FM with a macro lens. Also, I took a class on photography at a local vocation school and just kept working on it until I attained results I wasn't ashamed of.
Another example is that, to further my knowledge of the fish, I needed to visit their native habitat. So, I started to go collecting (with you of course) in México. Also, I visited The Netherlands and western Germany over the love of cichlids. And, I've visited many places in the US that I probably wouldn't have had the reason to visit had it not been for the fish hobby. So, travel to new and interesting places has been something that the hobby has brought me. And, although my Spanish isn't as good as I would like it to be, my many trips to México have given me a reason to speak it and stay at least partially conversational.
I've also met hundreds of very nice people that I wouldn't have met if it weren't for the fish hobby. Every year since 1980 I've gone to the ACA Convention. It's always been a blast to see all my old friends and have a good time just talking fish and solving the world's problems over a beer. I also have enjoyed meeting new people every year. I've also been heavily involved in a local cichlid club, the Ohio Cichlid Association, and have many local friends that I see frequently.
So, as you can see, I've grown in other areas other than just in the knowledge of the fish.
I remember reading old Trading Posts for a long time, where you were looking for a certain rare Cichlid species, I remember that in most of those cases no more than a year later you were offering in the same publication fry of those fish you were previously looking for. This talks for you as a great fish breeder. I and I know you and even your son Michael have won the BAP contest more than once. What has been the more challenging species to be bred, how did you manage that?
One of the more challenging group of species was the discus group. I managed to successfully breed blue faced discus, red turquoise and solid turquoise types, as well as a couple of other strains. And, I raised them all naturally, without water softeners or reverse osmosis units. I had to fight them eating their fry, periodic spats of aggression and periodic disease. At one time, I had over 30 breeding pairs of discus. But, I ultimately burned out on them and had to move on to other fishes.
I should also mention that there have been many species that have outsmarted me as well. One of them has been the Chuco species from Panama. I have had many spawnings and I have not yet been successful in raising a single fry. But, I haven't given up yet!!
Don you are the president of the Ohio Cichlid Association, one of the most successful and active local Cichlid clubs in the world. I know you are a long time personality in that club. Could you tell me something about the club?
The OCA is a rather special club, in my view. It started out in the 1980's as just another cichlid club. But it has continued to grow and prosper. I think the formula for success is a pretty simple one, but one that is hard to put all together. The recipe has been to bring in good speakers each and every month, stay fiscally responsible, keep giving to the members, put out a quality publication and, above all, have fun. I think the OCA excels at having fun. We frequently have fish fry's at our meetings and the board meetings are food fests. In fact Mark Chaloupka makes a mean jambalaya!
But we've had our share of adversity, too. The main thing is that we've stuck together and made it work.
What is the future of the organized Cichlid hobby as you see it?
The future of the organized cichlid hobby is somewhat endangered by the growth of the internet and the advances in computer based multimedia. For example, your Cichlid Room Companion, in my view, offers much more quality information that just about all cichlid clubs. And, you don't have to leave home on a snowy night to gain access to the information. But you just can't get the quality, face to face interaction that you can at a fish club meeting.
I think there will always be a place for a fish club provided that the club continues to service the membership and keep them interested. It's important for clubs and societies to remember that their membership is their customer, just like a business has customers. And, if they don't service the membership, they'll cease to grow and maybe even exist. On-time publications, with quality information, are key. I sometimes think that some of the large organizations forget who their customers are!
I'd better move on before I get too politically incorrect!
Don there are few people deep in the Cichlid hobby in this world that you don't know personally. Please tell me some names and things about them that come to your mind.
Well, like I said earlier, I've come to know many very interesting people that I would never have met if it weren't for this wonderful hobby. To address your question, I'll mention a few of them. But, this is in no way a full list, nor one that is in any priority order.
|Don Danko and Robert Rush Miller at the University of Michigan, 1993. Photo by Juan Miguel Artigas Azas.|
One fantastic gentleman that I am proud to know is the great Dr. Robert Rush Miller. I remember that many years ago, I called Dr. Miller at the University of Michigan to find out if it would be ok for me to visit their fish collection. Not only was it ok to visit, but Dr. Miller personally came to meet me and spent several hours with me. Although I was far from an expert in cichlids, he treated me with dignity and respect and showed a great interest in my personal experiences with keeping the fishes that he loved in aquariums. I have subsequently visited or seen Dr. Miller more than a couple of times since then and he has always been a pleasure to talk with. It has truly been a great honor to have spent some time with such a first class, important man in the cichlid arena.
And then there are my several collecting friends. I know I'll forget some, but I've really had a great time traveling with some well-known people in the hobby. For instance, I've traveled with the great Ross Socolof, Harry Specht, Rusty Wessel, Ad Konings, Elwin Segrest and Willem Heijns. I've also collected with some very good local friends, such as Steve Zarzeczny and Dan Woodland. Most of the names above need no commentary from me, as they are famous in the hobby. It's been truly a great experience to have known these guys.
I must thank you too, Juan Miguel, for making all those trips to México possible and for being a true friend above and beyond the hobby. You've also enhanced the hobby for several other people by making the collecting of cichlids a reality for them, too. Also, your Cichlid Room Companion is truly a great resource for beginners and advanced hobbyists alike.
I've also had the opportunity to meet and know several other well-know people. Here are just a few: Patrick de Rham, Don Conkel, Dr. Paul Loiselle, Dr. Wayne Leibel, John O'Malley and many, many others. I've also met some famous Europeans, such as Wolfgang Staeck, Uwe Werner and Rainer Stawikowski.
So, as you can see, I've gotten to meet and know many famous people in the hobby.
You have been in collecting trips for many years. I know at least 15 times in México. Please tell me three good things about this and a bad thing you remember about your travels to that country?
I've commented on some of my pleasant collecting experiences a bit above, but I'll elaborate on some others here.
One good thing is that I've been able to obtain some rare fishes that I never would have gotten otherwise. I've collected countless rare species, such as nebuliferum, callolepis, all the labridens types, pantostictum, the pink morph of fenestratum, steindachneri, beani, macracanthum, irregulare, socolofi, and many others that escape me right now.
A second thing that has been great is that I've seen some fantastic places. From a cichlid habitat standpoint, some of the fantastic places that I've been to are Media Luna (bartoni, labridens), Las Cascadas at Tamasopo ('blue labridens', steindachneri, tamasopoensis), Catemaco (pink fenestratum) and many places in Chiapas, too numerous to list. From a tourist standpoint, I've been to beautiful places like Cuernavaca, San Miguel de Allende and, most recently, Guanajuato.
Thirdly, as I mentioned above, I've gotten to meet some very nice people. I've had a great time digging out the Nissan truck with you at Playa Vicente, tossing down mopes shots with Ad in Palenque and eating all the acamaya that a small restaurant had with Willem. These are some experiences that I will never forget.
I've had very few negative experiences in México, but one comes to mind. I remember a time at Matias Romero in which you and I had gone down the river to collect regani and callolepis. My wife, Marilyn, was tired and stayed in the truck. After you and I got down the river a bit, I started to hear a horn sounding. When it became continuous, I started to run up the river to see what it might be. And, it turned out to be a group of guys harassing Marilyn. If it weren't for the machetes that a couple of them were carrying, I'd probably have tried my best Muhammad Ali impression! But, a cool head prevailed, they offered me some pulche (Mexican white lightning) and moved on.
But, as I've said, bad experiences have been few and far between.
Tell me about your hobby, what are your present interests?
My present projects include the following. I am still working with the Chuco species from Panama. I really want to spawn that fish. Also, I have just started to work with a pair of Hoplarchus psittacus. I'm also trying to get some more fry of a new species, authocton, and some of Archocentrus nanoluteus. Most people think of me as a Neotropical hobbyist only, however, I do keep some African as well. I still breed Tropheus duboisi and a nice strain of leleupi.
Lately, I've become somewhat bored with cichlids and have turned some of my attention to trying to spawn some Loricariids. I'm working with a number of Ancistrus species (probably ten!), hoping to get some of them going. They're really very interesting from a behavioral standpoint. They defend and care for their spawns in a most cichlid-like manner.
What are your future plans for your hobby. I know you are a prolific author, a great photographer and even are developing a very nice home page on Cichlids, tell me about more of your plans?
You are far too kind!
One of my large scale plans is to archive the thousands of slides that I have taken. I've bought a cd-rw unit and a slide scanner for this project, but really need to get moving on it.
I also want to write several more articles on some of the species that I have kept and bred.
Also, I want to keep improving the home page that I have started.
From a collecting standpoint, I'd like to turn southward and begin to collect in Central and South America. I have no plans yet, but this is what I'd like to do. I also want to expose my two sons, Michael and David, to the collecting experience. I'll probably do that soon.
But most importantly, I want to enjoy my hobby without being a slave to it. It's easy to load up on too many species and projects and not be able to make an impact. And, I'm never short of projects and species I'd like to keep to go along with my other hobbies and interests.
Thank you for asking me to participate in this interview. I feel very honored and I am happy to have shared some of my experiences and thoughts. I only hope that other hobbyists will find them interesting. Thanks again, Juan Miguel!