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Monday, June 20, 2005
HAWAII AT WORK
Workin’ with wildlife
Michelle Suenishi makes sure
Michelle SuenishiTitle: Wildlife manager, Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa
Job: Supervise the staff of five that takes care of the fish, penguins, turtles, ducks and other animals at the resort.
Question: How long have you been doing what you do?
Answer: Almost 20 years.
Q: How long at the Hilton?
Q: Where did you start?
A: At the Honolulu Zoo.
Q: What did you do there?
A: I was a veterinarian technician there.
Q: What kinds of things did you do there?
A: We attended to any sick animals or animals being brought into the zoo or moving out of the zoo, and regular routines like health checks.
Q: So how did you get the Hilton job?
A: I left the zoo and I worked for a private veterinarian for about a year, and then I came here. There was an opening, and I wanted to get back with exotic animals.
Q: What kind of animals do you work with at the Hilton?
A: Here, primarily birds, fishes and some turtles.
Q: What kind of birds?
A: Penguins (eight of them), flamingos, water fowl like ducks and swans (about 40), and psittacines or parrots.
Q: Psittacines? How do you spell that?
A: Oh, you going to test me now, eh?
Q: (Laughter) Well, ... what, psittacines are parrots?
A: There was a total of three of us.
Q: Were you the supervisor?
A: No, I started off as a wildlife attendant.
Q: When did you become the supervisor?
A: Now you're really testing me. I believe it was 1995.
Q: How many people work there now?
A: Excluding me there are five.
Q: So what are your responsibilities, basically?
A: I oversee the basic care of the wildlife and operation.
Q: And how much of an operation is it?.
A: Like what do you mean --how many animals?
Q: Yeah, how many animals, the size of the pools, stuff like that.
A: There's probably about 16 different exhibits, and birds alone is about 75; turtles we probably have about 15, fish are just different types of fish.
Q: Like what kind?
A: The Japanese carp or the koi; we have a lot of African cichlids, and some other rare types of fishes, like knife fish and giant gourami.
Q: What's your typical day?
A: My priority is to make sure everything is taken care of on a day-to-day basis -- the basic care and feeding of any animals. I manage the staff that takes care of them and make sure everything is kosher, that everybody is there and everybody's healthy.
Q: "Everybody" -- you mean the animals?
Q: Who cleans up after all these critters?
A: The five attendants. (Laughter) Actually, there's not much cleaning involved because it's all outdoors. It's not quite the same as a zoo setting, so it's a little different.
Q: Do the birds ever eat the fish?
A: No, they're almost fully dependent on the feedings, but we do have wild birds that come in and feed off the fish in the ponds.
Q: So are you like a doctor, too?
A: We have a vet that we use when we need to.
Q: How can you tell when something's sick?
A: That's what the attendants do, by observing their normal behavior, and once a year we give them a health check, like to check for worms, and only the problematic ones would be sent to the vet.
Q: Do you manage the other employees?
Q: Who do you report to?
A: The director of operations (Robert Cortez).
Q: What about the mechanical aspects of the ponds?
A: That's taken care of by the maintenance department, which is also part of operations.
Q: What about the feedings? Who comes to the those, besides the animals?
A: Primarily the guests. It's an open, free thing. Anyone can walk up and watch.
Q: Is it a popular thing?
A: The most popular is the penguins. There's two feedings a day and we'll average per day about 100 people, though the bulk of them are in the afternoon.
Q: What's your favorite part of the job?
A: I enjoy working with animals and educating people about animals.
Q: Do you give speeches or something?
A: During the (feeding) encounters, yes.
Q: Is this something you want to keep doing for a long time?
A: That's a very good question. In general, I enjoy what I do.