Monday, June 20, 2005


Michelle Suenishi has been working with the wildlife at Hilton Hawaiian Village for 16 years. Above, Suenishi cuddled on Friday with one of the resort's black swans. Also on the property are penguins, ducks, turtles and a wide variety of fish.

Workin’ with wildlife

Michelle Suenishi makes sure
the critters at the Hilton are
happy and healthy

Michelle Suenishi

Title: 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.

Michelle Suenishi loves animals, which is a good thing because she works with them every day at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki. No, not her fellow employees, but the 60 species of creatures that make their home in the ponds and grounds of the Waikiki resort. Someone has to feed and take care of all those animals, and that is where Suenishi and her staff of five attendants come into the picture. Suenishi, 36, is a graduate of McKinley High School and studied ornithology in college. She lives with her father in the neighborhood where she grew up, which she described as that ill-defined area between lower Alewa Heights, Kalihi and Kapalama.

Question: How long have you been doing what you do?

Answer: Almost 20 years.

Q: How long at the Hilton?

A: 16.

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: Yeah.

Friday was "job shadow day" for Central Middle School student Shantelle Gosney, center, who listened as Michelle Suenishi, right, spoke with her by the koi pond about the animals at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki. At left was Anne Chamness, Gosney's escort.

Q: When you joined Hilton, how many other people were there?

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?

A: Yes.

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?

A: Yes.

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.

"Hawaii at Work" features people telling us what they do for a living. Send suggestions to mcoleman@starbulletin.com

E-mail to Business Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- http://archives.starbulletin.com