Updated: Feb 8, 2022
Mum, Dad and I sat around the breakfast table in our regular positions. In front of us, we all had matching plastic colourful plates of toast and glasses of milk. Reuben joined us, laptop at the ready to dial into the ZAA meeting via Zoom.
“How long have we got before the meeting starts?” I wanted to know.
Reuben consulted his watch.
“About ten minutes. You’re welcome to stay and listen in, but I’d prefer if you weren’t seen on camera.”
“Of course, we can manage that,” I promised.
I tried to finish my breakfast more quickly, so that I wouldn’t be able to be heard chewing in the background. The time passed quickly.
“Alright, I’m ready to go,” Reuben announced.
He pressed a few buttons on his keyboard.
“Hi, Reuben.” I recognised the voice as Sam’s. “Are you still on the Cocos Islands?”
“I am,” Reuben answered, “and I gather that’s what we’ll be discussing today.”
“Yes,” Sam confirmed. “I can’t speak for Christine, but by the looks of things on the agenda that’s been distributed, we’ll be talking about that first, then getting onto everything else.”
“Good,” Reuben responded, continuing to click at his laptop, seeming distracted.
I hoped to stay for the whole thing. This presented itself as an opportunity to delve more into the zoo business, or specifically the workings of the primate taxon advisory group, an arm of ZAA.
“Hello, Christine, welcome,” Sam greeted.
“Hi.” She spoke with a New Zealand accent. “You’re in the Cocos, aren’t you, Reuben?”
“Sounds like it’s a very interesting adventure.” Christine, chair of the group, seemed friendly enough.
“Yes, it is.”
Reuben’s expression shifted.
“Well, as you would have seen on the agenda, we’ll be discussing your meeting item first, then moving onto the other points for discussion.”
I couldn’t see Reuben’s computer screen, so I had to imagine the other faces, beside Sam’s. My image of him remained relatively clear. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if my memory had been deceiving me, because I’d felt it rapidly declining, like grains of sand slipping through my fingers. Reuben tells me this is a trauma response. I don’t want to hear that, but I know he’s probably right.
“Howdy.” A masculine Australian voice chimed in. “You’ve been busy, Reuben.”
“Yes, hello, Bill.”
“Who are we still waiting on?” Bill asked.
“Ah, Don should be joining us,” Christine noted. “Gerard sends his apologies.”
I hadn’t heard Bill or Don’s names before, so I wondered how they fit in. Presumably they represent other Australian zoos.
“What’s the busy boy up to now?” Bill wanted to know.
“He is overseas at present,” Christine answered.
“Anything this company needs to be aware of.”
I sensed a hint of tension in the interaction. Maybe that was just being mean to people whom I don’t even know.
“I’m sure that if it proves itself to be, Gerard can bring that information to the next meeting.”
“Welcome, Don!” Christine sounded enthusiastic. “I think that we can get started. Right, as I just mentioned, we have an apology from Gerard, Auckland Zoo. Any other apologies to note?”
“Ah, Des said that he wouldn’t join us this meeting,” Reuben spoke up, “so I guess that he counts as an apology.”
Des wasn’t a familiar name to me. I wondered if he represented Werribee, given that Reuben seemed to know him.
“Yeah, thanks for that, Reuben,” Christine responded. “Sam, you’re taking the minutes for today, is that correct?”
“Yes, I can.”
“Alright, I think that it in terms of apologies. We’ll move onto the minutes of the previous meeting, I trust that you’ve all looked over them.”
This bit of the meeting seemed to be a little dry, but I found it intriguing nonetheless. There was a chorus of agreement around the group.
“Could I please have someone move that the minutes be accepted?”
An awkward silence followed.
“I was there, I can,” Reuben accepted.
“Thank you. And a seconder, please?”
This time the pause wasn’t so awkward, so I gathered there must have been a visual cue I couldn’t see.
My belly ached a little.
“That’s accepted. Our first item of business is to discuss whether we will approve the importation of a group of animals currently quarantining in the Cocos Islands.”
My heart started to beat faster. This meeting would have the potential to bring the animals to Australia.
“I hand over to Reuben Hendricks, Melbourne Zoo, who’s brought this item to the agenda today.”
Reuben adjusted his posture, so that he wasn’t slouching within his chair.
“Thanks, Christine. The collection in question, I can send through the list, comprises of three Dholes.”
“They’re not within the remit of this meeting, though,” Bill interjected.
“Yes, I’m aware of that,” Reuben insisted.
He looked above the screen at us for a moment. I couldn’t tell if that was a good sign or not. Perhaps Reuben would have rolled his eyes, if he wasn’t on camera.
“That’s the only non-primate species within the collection. There are four western tarsiers, two siamangs, five white-handed gibbons and two agile gibbons.”
I looked at Nanek while the numbers were read, as I couldn’t help myself. This must have pained her, because the dhole group had been decimated before the animals had left the sanctuary. Another western tarsier had been lost in transit.
“And these animals, having been rescued from a sanctuary in Sumatra, are currently on the Cocos Islands.”
“So your proposal essentially is that we give consensus to apply to import these animals to Australia?” Christine clarified.
My heart must have been beating fast, because my chest felt tight. I didn’t think this was going to go our way.
“Yes, essentially,” Reuben confirmed.
Support for the proposal was not immediate. I thought that I heard a sigh, but I might have imagined it.
“I note the obvious challenges,” Sam finally spoke up, and I think I audibly sighed with relief, “but these animals, of a wild background, would be invaluable within the Australian programs.”
Mum offered me a smile of encouragement. She must have been anxious too.
“Only the siamangs are program species,” Bill pointed out.
Reuben had forewarned us of this problem. The other animals didn’t have an easy place within Australian collections.
“I agree with Sam, in that these animals are of genetic value,” Bill noted. “Reuben, I’d have preferred that you would have provided more context before we discussed this, because the last thing I want to be accused of is the trafficking of critically endangered species--.”
He gave an incredulous laugh, as Reuben clicked his pen.
“I am happy and willing to answer any and every question that you have,” he assured, “and I will provide a written account of the situation as soon as I can. Predictably I’ve been a little busy, as I’m sure that you can imagine.”
Reuben had been leaning forward.
“Jelita Sitompul and her husband Michael had been running this sanctuary in Sumatra for primates, and the dhole group, which cannot be released back into the wild. On Boxing Day, her husband was murdered by wildlife poachers, who have since killed more of the animals. They were evacuated to a property near the airport. With appropriate permits, they have been moved to the quarantine centre.”
Reuben was putting the story bluntly.
“There’s also, for what it’s worth, a large group of over twenty pig-tailed macaques.”
Reuben finally sat back in his chair. I hadn’t noticed the omission, even though I was hanging on every word.
“Look, I think this is a matter for committee report. Reuben, Sam and myself will investigate the issue further and we’ll report back at the next meeting, with a written report to be provided before the meeting for everyone to read. Can I put that motion to the meeting, please?”
There was a pause. Reuben raised his hand. This feels like a failure, even though I know that it means that the issue will be thoroughly outlined, while the animals remain in quarantine and cannot be moved, anyway.
“Can I get a mover and a seconder, please?” Christine requested.
“I’ll move it,” Reuben jumped in.
“And I’ll second,” Sam pledged.
The meeting agreed to the motion. There we were charged with providing a solution to the problem, and Sam and Christine would be helping.
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.