Joshua is at home among wildlife


Initiative and humility earn rewards too

THERE are some people in life who have the courage to do the impossible or the sort of jobs that not many would dare to do and in turn, enjoy certain life’s privileges that not many people would ever enjoy.
This is the story of Joshua Heni, a 40-year-old Morobean who has an outstanding attitude to work and enjoys one of life’s greatest blessings to him – his job at the Port Moresby Nature Park.
As a young boy, Joshua always knew he was capable of so much more in life despite his education history. All he had to do was demonstrate his capabilities and never stop working whenever he was given the opportunity. Hailing from Finschhafen in the Morobe and growing up as a village boy, Joshua valued the importance of hard work and learnt as much as he could from his parents as a child.
As a teenager, Joshua journeyed with his parents to Port Moresby where they would eventually settle with his father finding a job to sustain Joshua, his mother and his nine siblings. Joshua has two sisters and seven brothers. Life in the city wasn’t all that easy for the Heni family as Joshua reflects on his childhood.
Fortunately with his father’s good nature and love for plants, he was offered a job at the then National Botanical Gardens to supervise a team of gardeners specialising in orchids. Back then, this was a main attraction at the botanical gardens, hence Heni built a good reputation with the management, enabling him to engage Joshua in various horticulture work around the gardens in order to also contribute to their family’s fortnightly earnings.
It wasn’t long before Joshua became part of the working team, maintaining gardens and at times, assisting with the garden’s security manpower.
An old friend of Joshua still resides at the park to date and that is Betty the olive python. Some days Joshua would follow his team assisting them with anything they needed a hand with, but at most times, he found himself wondering what he could do differently that would allow him to not just be a member of the team, but to be its key member.
Joshua’s father moved on from Port Moresby Nature Park, but Joshua remained as a young self-taught staff as he feared life without a job in Port Moresby would be meaningless. So he made friends with Betty. It wasn’t that easy as Joshua recollects when he first touched a snake, feeling the soft, coolness of the snake’s belly then the scaled skin as it slid slowly under his hand. It was a frightening experience for him at first but the determination to be a specialised ‘snake keeper’ pushed Joshua out of his comfort zone to eventually zero the gap between himself and Betty the python.
With pride, he explains how he developed the skill of taming a number of snakes here at the Park to date.
Joshua was one of those staff who were around when the Botanical Gardens transitioned to being the Port Moresby Nature Park with its new management. This new management identified Joshua’s talent with snakes and his willingness to work, and formally employed him as an animal keeper. It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Joshua as he found himself in a dilemma one day that caused him his employment at the park in 2014.
Joshua was happily allowing a guest to witness nature up close with him holding a snake to have their photo taken – a breach of conduct for an accredited zoo such as Port Moresby Nature Park. With such rules unfamiliar to a friendly village boy such as Joshua, he accepted his termination and headed back home to Finschhafen. For over two years there he recollected and prepared himself to still face the world through whatever opportunity he would get one day.
In 2015, as the Nature Park was going through its major refurbishments, Joshua received a call he least expected. Brett Smith, the park’s curator personally called Joshua to advise him that the park needed him back if he was ready to pick up from where he left off and start fresh as a wildlife officer. Without a second thought, Joshua accepted his job offer and was on his pre-booked flight back to Port Moresby, to reunite with his team.
The ability to accept his mistake and learn from it for the betterment of his job was undeniably the most humble gesture that earned Joshua the respect he has now for his role. Since his return, he has been mentored and trained by the park’s curator, Brett Smith who undoubtedly believes in his capabilities as in 2016, despite Joshua’s level of education, he was sponsored by Port Moresby Nature Park, in collaboration with Melbourne Zoo to undergo further training in handling snakes at the Melbourne Zoo, Australia.
This experience of such an opportunity to travel overseas and receive training by some of the best zoo keepers is one that Joshua will never forget.
“Here, I hold snakes with my bare hands, but when I went to Australia, I saw that the officers used sticks to hold snakes mostly for their safety. This taught me a lot on how careful I should be when picking up snakes,” said Joshua.
Port Moresby Nature Park has always been a supporter of rare talent and Joshua is one that possesses exactly that. Noting Joshua’s education gap, the park sponsored him in 2015 and 2016 to undergo training in supervisory skills and basic adult literacy respectively to complement his understanding of wildlife and nature through his years of experience working at the park.
Joshua is now a full-time bird keeper whilst being the main team member to handle the larger snakes whenever they need to be moved from their enclosures for various procedural tasks within the wildlife department at Nature Park.
His immediately supervisor and wildlife manager, Bebe Ishimu speaks highly of Joshua.
“Joshua is an outstanding animal keeper! His education is not a barrier at all to him and his team as everything he does here, he does it with great understanding,” said Ishimu.
“Ninety-seven per cent of his work is based on initiative which makes him a great member on our team. And because of that, I believe I have one of the best teams who are all driven by one cause, and that’s to save PNG’s wildlife for the future,” Ishimu proudly added.

  • The author is the Communications Coordinator at the Port Moresby Nature Park