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I tried to spend as much time as possible out in the zoo. Being in what’s left of the warm autumn air, and with my animals, provides me with a level of the peace I crave. Still, keeping myself busy stopped me from having to talk to other people. I wasn’t ready yet to let my family in, because I felt that my pain was silly. My sense of loss was unwarranted, and I couldn’t explain it. I did the mental gymnastics, comparing my pains, and only increasing the chill in my body. Telling Mum wasn’t disclosure. She is an extension of my own body, mind and soul, or maybe I am still an extension of hers. I had mixed business and pleasure long ago. All I could hope was nobody would notice. Unfortunately, though, I did need to return to the house. The bird TAG meeting demanded my attention, especially after I’d expressed interest in expanding our collection. I flicked through my emails to relocate the link. The gathering had already commenced by the time I joined.

“You’re going to be housing South American birds, aren’t you?” Raffa checked. “You know, when you open your new South American development.”

“That would be my understanding, yes,” Don confirmed. “It’s pretty down the road in terms of our developments, though. Our priority is finishing off the African section by the end of the year.”

That sounded reasonable. Some of the animals, like the pygmy hippo and Mwenyezi the lion, were already within the zoo.

“On that note, we’re going to be including ostriches. The plan is to bring across some females from Mogo.”

From memory, they were feisty. I felt sorry for the keepers needing to transport even some of them from Mogo, across the vast continent to Adelaide Zoo, but I was confident that there were plans in place for a successful transfer. I played with Kakek’s cross, feeling a little anxious. Last year, I’d spoken with the bird TAG about red-capped parrots. We needed to continue that conversation. Gilham turned off his camera. A shiver went over me, although I wasn’t sure why.

“Jumilah, you had something you wanted to mention on behalf of Acarda Zoo,” Robin raised.

“Yes, about red-capped parrots.”

“That’s a question for Maleny.”

“It’s very challenging to breed them in captivity,” Narella pointed out.

I suspected that would be what she would say. This threw our plans to acquire the parrots into disarray, but I tried not to appear dismayed.

“Well, we do have a clutch that’s coming up to sexual maturity. Pairing one of those birds with another captive individual would be ideal for your aviary.”

I nodded. It sounded like a plan. The meeting came to an end. I would have a few hours to complete administrative tasks. Tallulah came over. I knew it was only a matter of time before I would need to tell her about Damian. Keeping secrets from my best friend weighed on me almost as much as what had happened. Therefore, I started telling the story. Tallulah picked straight away that I had something to divulge, rather than just making conversation.

“Well, yeah, we almost slept together.” I resolved to keep talking, so that Tallulah would have limited time to respond verbally. “It’s fine, though. He’s in Sydney and I’m here. We both have our own responsibilities. It’s not like I’m in love with him or anything.”

“Right. If you say so.”

“Well, I mean, he could come and visit at some stage. He said that he might like to, because he looked after the animals. It was just a short-term thing, but it doesn’t mean that there are no feelings there.”

The statement could have equally applied to Damian’s relationship with the animals, or mine with him. I left it for Tallulah to decide which interpretation she preferred.

“Anyway, what’s on your mind?”

“We’ve been asked to participate in the feral deer cull,” Tallulah divulged.

“I can see how they wreck havoc on the environment,” I pointed out, even though I found myself a bleeding heart for any living creature.

“They wouldn’t be bad food for the dholes,” Mum pointed out. “In the wild, they eat deer, so it would be fantastic enrichment.”

“You wouldn’t be planning on feeding them to them live, would you?”

“Of course not, even though it would be fun for the dholes, I’m sure.”

This would have been much preferred to deal with last week, so that I could have spoken with the carnivore TAG about it. I was sure that there would be plenty of opinions, not that I really had to listen to them. Our dholes were the only ones of their species in the region, and the issue with the deer was a Tasmanian problem. I didn’t kid myself, of course, that this was a unique situation. I joined the primate TAG meeting, smiling at the other faces which appeared on my screen. Don would be leading a discussion about the regional breeding program for Bolivian Squirrel Monkey. Tallulah let herself out of the house, before Mum placed down a bowl of pasta in front of me.

“Would you like to use Stumpy as a breeding male?”

“I’d like him to have another name.”

I twirled spaghetti around my fork.

“That’s his name, he’s Stumpy,” I asserted, “and sorry, I’m eating my lunch.”

“There’s no reason to think we wouldn’t. Acarda Zoo would have to obtain unrelated females, though, to form a troop, but I’m sure that we can accommodate that within the regional breeding program.”

“If we can ascertain that Stumpy’s unrelated to our females, we would be happy to send some down,” Sam told me.

“Well, if we’re going to use him for breeding, I’m happy to give him a full vet exam.”

“Were the primates examined by vets before being transferred to Acarda?”

“Yes, they were,” Sam interjected. “They were all examined by Taronga vets when they were first reported to authorities.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know that.”

I put myself on mute, then took a deep breath. It wasn’t my place to barge into programs which I wasn’t personally involved with. When it came to the programs which I was involved with, it would help if I got my facts straight.

“Let’s move onto the member reports,” Christine urged. “Adelaide Zoo?”

“Nothing to report this meeting.”

“Auckland Zoo?”

“We had a challenging situation with one of our lemurs.”

Gerard explained. It seemed to me like the keeper would have been at fault in that situation, but I trusted that, if I was right, someone else would point this out.

“We made the decision not to perform a hysterectomy due to her genetic value. We’re hopeful that she might be able to breed again.”

Hopefully that would prove to be the right decision in the long run.

“Ah, Beerwah,” Christine invited, sounding a little rattled.

“Hunter, may I ask how you’re getting on with the orangutan import?” Angelique wanted to know. “It’s been a long time coming.”

“Look, obviously things have changed. We’re hoping this will be a positive step, to be able to bring a great ape into our collection for the very first time, to bring great apes into Queensland--.”

Gilham cleared his throat.

“To bring orangutans into Queensland,” Hunter corrected himself.

They would join Rockhampton’s chimps. I hoped that a successful orangutan colony would thrive at Australia Zoo, both for Hunter’s sake and for the regional breeding program. Rockhampton had gone above and beyond with their great ape group.

“Look, I think this would be a conversation for another day.”

I felt a little light-headed. Perhaps I needed a glass of water.

“Darling Downs Zoo?”

“I think it’s worthwhile that Hunter’s raised an orangutan import. We would be keen to foray into great apes too.”

“Well, Bornean orangutans would be better for the region,” Gerard outlined, “but I do have a personal stake in that.”

“As do I with Sumatran orangutans,” Angelique interjected.

Raffa seemed a little bit perturbed, as he put himself on mute, pursed his lips and linked his fingers.

Another holder of bachelor gorillas wouldn’t have gone astray.

“None of us are perfect.”

I didn’t appreciate when accusations were thrown around in the meeting. Thankfully, the tone of the gathering settled back down.

“Gilead Wildlife Sanctuary?”

“Nothing for us this meeting.”

“Monarto Safari Park?”

We soon learned that the alpha male chimpanzee was gravely ill.

“We’re very concerned.” Blessing appeared drained. “It’s not what we’d want to have happen. Our troop has endured a lot of loss so far.”

There was the possibility that Tsotsi would pull through, but it seemed unlikely. I found myself playing with Kakek’s cross.

“Aggression isn’t unheard of in these situations. Of course, it would be uncharacteristic from Tsotsi, but like human beings, you can’t predict how can animal is going to react when they’re unwell.”

Christine passed on her well wishes. An email notification popped up, which briefly distracted me, before I returned my attention to Zoom.

“Taronga Zoo?”

“We’re going pretty well, we’re progressing with our redevelopment plan, which at this stage looks like putting plans in place to transport our bachelor troop of ring-tailed lemurs back to Taronga Western Plains.”

Sam fielded a question about a walk-through tamarin exhibit.

“Well, from my perspective, it’s optimal for animal welfare that there’s a level of control around the ways in which humans access the habitat. For us, that looks like having exhibit access be paid, rather than just part of the zoo.”

“Western Plains Zoo?”

“We’ve decided that we’re going to construct a gorilla habitat. The location and funding for the precinct is going to be announced to the public next week. Fortunately the new government is pretty keen to hit the ground running with this one.”

“Would this be a breeding group or a bachelor group?”

“Well, a breeding group, but--.”

Claire, like me, knew that this wasn’t what was preferred by the region.

“Perhaps we could import together?”

The words slipped from my lips before I knew it. Due to us running out of time, the meeting came to an end before we were able to settle the matter. I couldn’t stop thinking about Monarto, even though I knew I needed to do something to shake the glum out of me.


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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