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PEOPLE STORY

Wildlife manager, Flamingo casino

Vegas is a city that never sleeps, but there’s countless people working away behind the scenes doing all manner of jobs to make sure the city’s unique charms never fade. Paul Sculpher meets a lady tasked with looking after the animals at one of the Strip’s most famous haunts

The Flamingo Hotel and Casino sits on the famous four corners of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road, and is renowned as a resort that combines all the glamour of the Vegas Strip with excellent hospitality and service.

It’s the oldest resort on the Strip, having opened on Boxing Day 1946. Opened by notorious mobster Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel at a cost of $6 million, the Flamingo was billed as the world’s most luxurious hotel. Legend has it that Siegel named the resort after his girlfriend Virginia Hill, who loved to gamble and whose nickname was Flamingo – a nickname Siegel gave her due to her long, skinny legs.

And the pink bird remains an iconic presence here, in both neon and feathery form. The resort is home to a flock of live Chilean flamingos within its Wildlife Habitat, as well as a collection of other interesting creatures including swans, ducks, vividly colourful koi carp and turtles, all living on specially designed islands and streams surrounded by luscious foliage and cascading waterfalls.

And so given that we at Gambling like to look a little further than your standard casino people for these interviews, this month we’ve found someone with a fairly unusual job title in the casino world. Robin Haeffner-Matos takes care of all the wildlife at the Flamingo, and she took a moment away from feeding the birds to grab a quick chat with us.

Gambling: Robin, the wildlife habitat here is beautiful. How many birds, fish and animals are you responsible for?

Robin: We have 76 birds, including the famous flamingos, as well as three or four hundred fish and 30-40 turtles. We have a list of everything, and we run a ‘roll call’ twice every day to make sure everyone’s in good shape.

How do you find them all?

For most of them, we have specific treats that they know to expect at a certain time of day, so we can tick them off the list. Occasionally we have trouble tracking them down – the turtles tend to wander quite a lot.

At least you won’t need to be chasing them around in this heat. Do you ever get any attempted escapes?

Not really, although Turk, one of our guineafowl, has been known to explore the place. He sees his reflection in the glass doors to the sportsbook, and sometimes has made his way into the room. Security used to panic and call us, now they just shoo him back out again.

Have you ever had any trouble with guests messing with the animals, especially after a few drinks?

No, everybody has been pretty well behaved. A few times per day we grab a microphone to put on a show for the guests in the area, and tie this in with feeding. Many of the birds have their own specific feeding stations, for example the one for our crane is designed so that only the crane can access it. We have to work it this way to avoid attracting wild birds.

Do you encourage breeding?

Yes, we’ve had baby turtles – very cute. In fact the whole show is pretty much like looking after a bunch of children. Our flamingos take the award for the most misguided approach to breeding – not so long ago, one of them mistook an electrical box for it’s own egg, and incubated it for 45 days before realising it probably wasn’t going to be hatching anytime soon. [Robin showed me the electrical box in question, and the only conclusion I could draw from this is that flamingos are staggeringly dim.]

So, a fascinating glimpse into one of the most unusual casino jobs out there. Next time you’re in Vegas, wander through to take a look at the habitat – on the way to the Flamingo’s pool – and check it out for yourself.

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