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Waking up this morning I touched my fingertips to Kakek’s cross, as I searched my mind for the day of the week. Tuesday, I eventually settled. Roz arriving from the mainland. The ungulate TAG meeting, if I found the time. I rolled onto my side, for a moment not wanting to get out of bed, but eventually pulling myself up. There was feed to prepare and preparation to complete. This was not only my home, but, more importantly, the home of Acarda Zoo’s growing collection of animals. When I headed outside, I could smell smoke in the air. For a moment I thought that I might have been having a stroke, but what was more likely was that one of the adjoining properties was having a burn-off. This time of year in the cooler weather was ideal for it. We approached the nocturnal house, which provided welcome respite from the unpleasant odour.


“You know, it would be nice if they warned us,” Mum admitted.


“It’s possible they did,” I acknowledged. “It’s not like we’ve been keeping up with the mail.”

 

It wasn’t something I wanted to admit. Since I’d returned from Sydney, I’d been flat-out, trying to ignore what had happened there. Mum and I entered the back-of-house area. The food had already been prepared the night before for the morning meal. We would need to make sure that everything was together for the afternoon.

 

“I’m a little bit worried about this one.”


“What do you think is the matter with her?”


The tarsiers were cute, if a bit strange-looking animals. While Belitung, the male, was fit and firing, it was the females who caused us the most concern.

 

“Has she eaten anything this morning?”


“Yes, her appetite seems normal.”


“Yes, that’s good.” I smiled. “Good to hear.”


At least some things were still running as planned. We exited the nocturnal house. I walked back towards the house with Mum, adjusting my bra strap. It was time for the zoo to open, so I knew that we needed to be on our best behaviour. I felt like I was living with a sorrow I couldn’t voice.


“Listen, please, Jumilah, just sit down and talk to me,” Mum urged.

 

She prepared me a cup of tea for the occasion. Mum held me in her arms as I cried and cried.


“It’s alright, it’s alright,” she reassured, rubbing circles in my back.


“I’m sorry,” I apologised, but I didn’t elaborate, because I could barely speak.


Mum’s physical comfort started to teach me that my feelings were valid. Eventually I lost the energy to cry. When the phone rang, I needed to move myself out of Mum’s embrace.


“Is it alright if I answer it?”


“Yeah, of course.”

 

She stepped over and briefly spoke on the phone. Hanging up, Mum turned back to me.


“Roz is at the airport already, her flight got in a little bit early.”


“Oh, right.”


I sniffled hard.

 

“Would you like to come with me?”


“Is that what you want?”


“Yes, I would, please, if you can.”


“Yeah, of course I can, Jumilah. Your father can take care of things here.”

 

Mum stood up. When we arrived at the airport, we lingered in the car for a while.


“Are you sure that you’re alright, Jumilah?” Mum checked.


“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” I promised, and then I emerged from the car.


Mum did the same. We locked the car behind us and approached the terminal. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long. We returned home with Roz in tow. I couldn’t help but think about the work which needed to be done. Our first point on the tour was the newly-constructed islands, to show Roz the sort of work we were committed to.

 

“These are the new animals,” I reported. “The squirrel monkeys here, and the tamarins there.”


“That was very good of you to take them on,” Roz responded.“Well, let’s just say that it was a mutually beneficial situation for many parties,” Dad replied, with full pomp.

 

We returned to the house, where I finally checked my watch. It was wonderful to have Roz around and I knew that she would be able to provide some much-needed funding, but I was distracted.


“I have an ungulate TAG meeting to attend.”


Mum nodded. I joined the Zoom.


“Yeah, we’ll be transferring out the males,” Blessing confirmed.


I gathered they may have been speaking about any number of ungulate species. Turning up late was hardly an auspicious start, although I mustn’t have been the only one. Gerard also seemed to be absent. Perhaps there was something significant taking place at Auckland Zoo, preventing him from attending the meeting. I placed myself on mute, knowing I was there to listen, learn and observe. How were Burma and Nandi, New Zealand’s relevant elephants, going? Nandi was still months away from giving birth.

 

“We want to do this once and do it right.”


“Only once?” Des checked. “Is there something I’m missing?”


“Oh, no, not necessarily.”


I mustn’t have been the only one who thought Mal was being coy.

 

“All I’m saying is that we hope the wild will become a safer place in the years to come,” he finally elaborated. “In-situ work is important. We need to be supporting that rather than just coming in as saviours all the time.”


“The same is true for elephants.”

 

Reuben took himself off mute.


“One of our former employees has been working in Africa with a program artificially inseminating wild female bongos. The intention is to increase genetic diversity in both the wild population and the captive population, building up bongo numbers overall.”

 

“Would you be seeking funding for this program from the ungulate TAG.”


“Oh, no, not necessarily. I’m just using that as an example of the sort of in-situ work that’s taking place.”


“And we should be seeking to contribute to in-situ work,” Claire insisted. “That’s part of our conservation efforts, not just breeding the animals in our zoos.”

 

“Oh, wow, we’ve been talking about this for quite some time.”


The grumbling of my stomach confirmed the statement.


“We should look to wrap up soon.”


“Anyway, we can discuss this more on Friday, we’ll make sure that we have a meeting then.”

 

I knew she was referring to the elephant TAG.


“They would have access to water within their indoor enclosures,” Ara assured. “I just see that as being a given. “I’ve contacted Singapore Zoo, but there are two zoos with Malayans in the UK as well.”


I was keen, although I understood the implications for animal welfare.

 

“I’d advise against the import of kudu. I know that a number of zoos are keen--.”


“Well, yes, we’ve planned for them,” Blessing noted. “Would you propose we dedicate the spaces to another species?”


“Yes, bongo would be ideal,” Claire outlined. “It’s a long-term vision for the program.”

 

“Are you still planning on importing later in the year?”


“Yes, we’ve identified six founders, two males and four females. We hope to have them arrive in October, with three of those moving on to Monarto. Hopefully this would allow large herds to develop, and justify the dedication of fifty spaces--.”

 

“Fifty? Surely that’s a bit of a pipe-dream.”


“OK.”


I resisted my urge to laugh. The meeting found itself at a bit of a stalemate. I hoped the member reports would break the dam.

 

“Western Plains Zoo?” Blessing invited. “Claire, do you have anything else to report?”


“We’re spelling our regular eland paddock, so the group are off-display for the meantime, in a paddock behind the main giraffe enclosure.”


Blessing nodded. I was familiar with the technique from our early years with the farm.


“Also, I thought I would give you an update on Djembe’s pregnancy, our female bongo. The vets have been closely monitoring her, obviously she’s bred a number of times before. Thankfully, it seems like everything is going smoothly with mother and calf.”

 

“Wait, Djembe is pregnant?” Graeme sought clarification. “I didn’t realise you were speaking about Djembe the bongo.”


“Yes, she is,” Claire confirmed, with a patient smile. “We haven’t announced it to the public. She’s due in a few months. This is potentially her last calf, so we’ve got our fingers crossed.”

 

Djembe had been a prolific breeder. Hopefully the region’s zoo would be able to import more bongo, sooner rather than later.


“She’s on public display, so we know that it’ll get out sooner or later.”


I sensed there was something Claire wasn’t sharing, but it wasn’t my place to pry. Once the meeting came to an end, I closed the lid of my laptop and strode outside. Angry clouds brewed over the hills. A jagged streak of lightning sliced through the sky, zoo guests scattering. Almost five o’clock, I radioed through for Mum to close the gates prematurely. We wouldn’t lose business in fifteen minutes. I heard wheels turn as the cars departed.


“Welcome to Tasmania, I guess,” I told Roz with a laugh, when I encountered her by the entrance to the nocturnal house.


“Oh, trust me, they have storms in every part of the world. You should see the tropics.”

 

She glanced to the cover above.


“This is a good building, a good structure.”


“Thank you.”


I felt a little awkward about the comment, but I trusted Roz meant no harm. From the safety of the awning, we watched lightning dance through the clouds. I felt anxious about what was going to come next. My heart was thumping as I located Sam’s number within my contacts and called him. Given the circumstances, he needed to know about Spirit’s pregnancy.


“Hi, Jumilah, how are you?” Sam answered swiftly.

 

“I’m good. Listen, I just wanted to check in with you. Spirit is pregnant and we think that she’s about to give birth soon.”


“Sorry, can you say that again, please? I didn’t hear you properly. Did you just say that Spirit is pregnant?”

 

“Yeah, she’s pregnant,” I divulged to Sam. “Sorry, you must have missed that one.”


“Look, I am sorry. With her state of nutrition--.”


“It’s fine, these things happen. Thomas, our local vet, thinks she’s pretty close to giving birth.”


“Right.”

 

We’d all already been through enough with these squirrel monkeys. I knew that Spirit had given birth at least once before, to have Stumpy, who was now the sire of her latest offspring. Considering his birth defect, there was no guarantee that the baby would be born alive, let alone healthy. The wind swirled, ever louder. I rolled my lips.


“Anyway, I’d better go. I don’t think we’re going to have reception for much longer.”


Sam and I ended the call. I slipped my arms into the sleeves of my rain jacket. Dropping my phone into the pocket, I zipped up the front.

 

“There might be a mass bongo import later in the year,” I mentioned. “Taronga and Dubbo and Monarto are keen, obviously. I gather that Werribee might be. What do you think?”


“I’m not sure.”


“Well, you know, it might cut down on the import costs,” I pointed out.

 

“Oh, we can talk about that later,” Mum dismissed.


“Mum, when is later?”


She sighed heavily.


“Look, I’m sorry, Jumilah. I’m sure that Thomas will be here soon.”

 

I nodded. We needed to focus on our pregnant squirrel monkey before we were considering extra animals. I thought that I could hear the lashing of his windscreen wipers back and forth. From the front veranda, I could see out onto the road and over the carpark. Sure enough, headlights shining, the vet was on his way. Doctor Thomas emerged.


“Thank you so much for coming.”


Under the safety of his umbrella, we walked into the zoo grounds. Thankfully the lightning had given way, to monotonous, heavy rain.

 

“I think we’re going to have to stay the night,” Doctor Thomas proclaimed, “if you’ll have us.”

“Of course. I appreciate the extra hands on deck.”


The howls of the wind died down, to the gentle hum of a breeze. I wondered whether or not we were out of the worst of it, but I didn’t like to be presumptuous.

 

“You can go inside if you’d like, warm up, take a shower,” Mum suggested, and I wondered if I smelled, which wouldn’t have surprised me.


Living in a zoo, the aromas didn’t bother me. If they did, then I would have had to look for a new career.


“I’ll give our guests the first opportunity,” I offered, turning to Tallulah and Thomas.

 

“I’m OK, but thank you,” Thomas insisted, but Tallulah returned to the house for about fifteen minutes or so.


Eventually she returned, changed into clothes which must have left here at some stage. Mum ensured we were all supplied with hot coffee, to maintain us for the long night ahead. Doctor Thomas took a moment to call his wife, while Tallulah had already texted Bridie to let her know she wouldn’t be coming home. My mind travelled back to watching Georgia give birth on a computer screen. As a nervous tic I pumped my hand up and down my phone, accidentally bringing up Patrick’s contact through the touchscreen in the process.

 

“Are you doing anything important right now?” Mum wanted to know.


I shook my head.


“No, not at all.”


I made sure to press the button on the side of my phone, to turn off the screen. We returned to the squirrel monkey island. The other animals were away for the night, so the only noise in the zoo was the pitter-patter of rain. Soon after, Tallulah and Doctor Thomas arrived from the house. Spirit wasn’t particularly active and Stumpy refused to leave his female’s side. Did it make me uncomfortable that they were mother and son as well as breeding partners? Yes, but we wouldn’t make that same mistake again. My stomach grumbled, although I was undaunted by hunger.


“What will you do if she can’t pass the baby?” I asked. “Do you have sedatives on hand?”


Perhaps it was a little too late to be asking that question.

 

“Yeah, I’ve got drugs, if needed.”


Doctor Thomas only seemed to have a small case with him, but I knew it wouldn’t take much sedative to knock out a squirrel monkey. We had a pet pack, just in case she needed to be transported to Dodges Ferry. I hoped it wouldn’t come to that. I startled a little at the sound of Doctor Thomas’ phone ringing. He reached into his pocket.


“Sorry, I’ve just got to take this.”


I nodded to give permission. Mum, too, had departed.


“I nearly called Patrick tonight,” I admitted to Tallulah, when it was just the two of us, and a labouring squirrel monkey.


“Do you think that you’d want to get back together with him?” she asked.

 

“We broke up the first time because I was about to go to the mainland and I realised that I wasn’t going to spend the whole time pining for him. The second time, Patrick broke up with me because of Sloane, because he thought that he didn’t have feelings. Turns out, he did, and they were stronger than the feelings he had for me.”

 

Doctor Thomas returned, bringing our vulnerable conversation to an abrupt halt.


“Thank you for staying.”


I gave him a tired smile.


“Kerrie was understanding. I’ll check on Spirit again.”

 

He fetched his doppler machine and poked the probe through the mesh.


“What’s the matter?” I enquired, trying to read the crinkle in his brow.


“As far as I can tell, the baby is in distress. We need to deliver sooner rather than later.”


“So are you saying that you need to perform a Caesarean?”

 

Doctor Thomas nodded. I turned back. I trusted that he would be able to give her the drugs for a sedation, to get her in the pet pack to Dodges Ferry. Between Spirit’s legs, I noticed a bulge. Her hands were reaching for her vulva. The birth itself seemed to happen in a flash, in relative silence. There was no longer a need for a Caesarean, and both were breathing. The tiny baby clung to her mother. Alive was all that we could ask, hope and pray for, for now. Healthy was the next, crucial step, for this tiny, fresh life. I stepped outside, freed from the warmth of the corridor. All was calm, all was dark. I returned to the house to grab some more blankets, and let Mum and Dad know the happy news about the birth of Spirit’s baby.


 

Jumilah Fioray is a recent high school graduate from lutruwita, Tasmania. Her parents, Catherine and Adriano Fioray, met at the University of Melbourne in the 1990s and returned to Hobart after finishing their degrees, where they raised their daughter and worked in agriculture. Jumilah's passion for conservation reflects her grandparents' work running a sanctuary in Sumatra.


Abbey Sim is the founder of Huldah Media. She is a creative writing, law and theology student who lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. Abbey has long had a passion for the weird and the wonderful of stories, sport and zoo animals. 'From the Wild' is her first anthology.


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