Rain thudded against the roof. It wasn’t the most auspicious start. Still, I walked out to the kitchen like nothing was the matter.
“Morning,” Reuben greeted me. “There’s some breakfast there for you.”
Reuben wiped down the bench.
“Miserable old today outside.”
“Don’t worry about doing something outside, if you can help it.”
“Well, would you like me to go to the hospital today?”
“It’s up to you,” Reuben answered. “I’ve got structural engineers coming in to have a look at the Amazon aviary. You’re welcome to come if you want to. I don’t think you’ll learn anything you don’t already know.”
“What’s the matter with it?”
“It’s a very old structure. Since we took the birds out, we’ve finally been able to have a proper look. My plan would be to put the squirrels in there, considering that it was built for monkeys first off, but we need to make sure the roof isn’t going to collapse on their heads.”
“That does seem worth doing.”
I finished my breakfast.
“Look, if you want to, come with me at ten. Other than that, just enjoy yourself today.”
We departed the cottage.
“And try not to get too wet,” Reuben advised, as we zipped up our rain jackets.
A free agent, my first stop was the elephant exhibit. Given the inclement weather and no longer school holidays, there were few people around. I noticed the majority of the cows out in the rain, plus the bull in the adjoining yard, braving the water. Chaba remained within the barn within the calf, who seemed to be swaying a little bit.
“Is he alright?” I asked Bob.
“Yes, he’s fine, he just has cabin fever like the rest of us.”
“Right,” I responded.
I shifted a little closer to him.
“Do you know what the name’s going to be?”
“I do know what the name’s going to be,” Bob confirmed, “but that isn’t public knowledge yet. You will find out when everyone else does.”
When I returned home for lunch, Reuben was thrashing about.
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah, the invitation for Emmie and Vel’s wedding came. I can’t find it to RSVP.”
“Wasn’t it a paperless post?”
Reuben’s face lit up for a moment.
He went onto his laptop, to check the email. I felt proud of myself for remembering. Reuben sent through the RSVP.
“Aren’t you supposed to be at the eles?”
“I was, but I’m still allowed a lunch break. Besides, I need to talk to you about the calf.”
“Is there something wrong?”
“He’s quite sluggish. Do you think Meredith should take a look at him?”
I noticed a brief flash of alarm across Reuben’s face, before his expression stabilised.
“Talk to Bob, he can radio Meredith if he thinks that there’s a problem.”
“Alright, I can do that.” I nodded my head. “I’ll see you later.”
As I departed the cottage, I thought about the elephant calf expected at Auckland Zoo. I encountered Vel.
“Hello, Jumilah, how are you?”
We walked along the Main Drive.
“Can I ask you, Jumilah, can you speak Indonesian?”
“Yes, I can.”
In language, Vel confirmed that he could too. I beamed.
“You know, I thought you might have been Indo. I thought I’d heard you were of Filipino background.”
I felt pleased for my instincts to have been confirmed correct.
“I’m a third-culture kid, really,” Vel explained. “I’m Aussie-born, Dad’s Javanese and Mum’s Filipino. Most of my family that we’re really close with is in the Philippines. The Javanese side, that’s where I get my name from.”
“Mum’s maiden name is Sitompul.”
“Classic North Sumatrans.”
Vel consulted his watch.
“I’m sorry, I’ve got a keeper talk to get to.”
“See you later,” I farewelled Vel with a wave.
He headed off. I scampered through the zoo, to the admin block. Slipping in through the door, I greeted Emmie with a smile, which she returned.
“All ready to go?”
“Really, most TAG meetings could be emails,” Emmie levelled, “but this one, I want to see their faces for this one.”
I breathed in through my nose, steeling myself for conflict. We joined the carnivore TAG meeting from a meeting room, so that Monica, Emmie and myself could be visible at the same time. The leopard review a few months back hadn’t resolved the issues as well as it could have, so we needed to discuss things on a much more practical level – which required keeper reinforcements.
“Monica, would you be willing to bring Melbourne onboard with the Sri Lankan Leopard program?”
“My only concern is that, if we breed Sri Lankan Leopards, we’d have to alternate with the snow leopards. At the moment, we do have a focus on snow leopards, due to their low numbers in the region at present. Wellington is on board with that program. We’re a relatively suitable climate.”
“That’s your assessment, fair enough,” George responded. “What are your thoughts, Blessing?”
“We’re working collaboratively with Adelaide under Zoos SA in making these decisions.”
“Look, my understanding was that the Zoos SA position is that leopards would be a point of difference at Adelaide. Adelaide should hold the breeding pair, at the very least, I feel.”
“I’ve got no object to that,” Blessing agreed. “It’s a similar situation to the choices we’ve needed to make around gorillas.”
“That can be discussed in the primate TAG meeting, of course.”
“It sounds like we’ve got a decision to make.”
I could sense the tension in the room.
“There’s something that I would like to raise in relation to the planned hyaena transfer,” Julie noted. “We’ve been contacted by an institution from South Africa and have decided to import from there instead.”
She sighed, trying to choose her words.
“I don’t want to say that we got a better offer--.”
“But you got a better offer,” Blessing reasoned, “and that’s not a bad thing. She’ll bring invaluable genetics to the program.”
“Perhaps the Monarto female will be able to go to Werribee.”
“We will need to discuss this further in the future,” Bill agreed. “We’re at the stage when the hyaena program is worth its own regional management.”
I didn’t realise that it wasn’t already.
“Anything the studbook keepers would like to raise?”
“I’m still keen to see if there are any further fishing cat holders with plans for the short-term,” Sam spoke up. “It would generate more certainty around the program, if we know where offspring will be housed.”
“We can consider that, for sure,” Bill agreed. “Let’s move on for now, though. Adelaide?”
“Last week, we sent some tamarins to Melbourne. This week, we’ve been able to cordon off the area where those exhibits were located. They’ll be demolished and then we’ll commence construction on our Sri Lankan Leopard exhibit.”
“That’s fantastic,” Raffa praised. “How long will it take to build?”
“We’re hopeful of constructing it within a year.”
“I thought the leopards would replace your old lion exhibit,” Bill mentioned.
“It’s both, really, in terms of floor space,” Harold clarified.
“We’ve had three more maned wolf pups born.”
“We performed a health check on our female Sumatran Tiger, but thankfully she’s in good nick.”
“Our new binturong pair has arrived. They’ve arrived from the UK and are quarantining along with a second pair which will then be transferred onto Tasmania Zoo in Launceston.”
I beamed at the mention of my state.
Monica took us off mute.
“I don’t think that there’s much to report this meeting. We’ve been pretty busy with the new elephant calf here.”
“What about the fishing cat question?”
“Fishing cats aren’t currently part of our collection plan. Unfortunately, the breeding has dried up in the region. Were Taronga or Hamilton to breed, then we would reconsider our position.”
That point of view differed from what I’d heard from Reuben.
“Well, what do you think about ocelots?”
I could hear Harold’s tongue in his cheek somewhat, but I don’t think the suggestion was wholly unserious. Nonetheless, it was ignored by the others.
“Yes, apologies for missing last week’s meeting. Our lion cubs were born last Thursday afternoon.”
“That’s great news, mate,” Sam praised. “How many are there?”
“Three. So, we have no idea of the sex at this stage. We haven’t made a public announcement yet. That will all come in time, hopefully.”
“Nothing to report, but I did have a question. Where do you anticipate will receive the next cheetah breeding recommendation? Will it be Werribee Zoo or somewhere else?”
“I doubt it will be us,” Des retorted. “We only have the one queen currently.”
“You always could import.”
“It’s not like new bloodlines aren’t in short supply. You import them like they’re candy from South Africa.”
“So do you,” Mal retorted in a refined tone.
He shrugged his shoulders.
“Anyway, it was just a question.”
“We’ve had a fennec fox birth of two kits, last Friday night.”
Once we left the meeting, Vel waited for Emmie. They left together without saying a word. Reuben wasn’t there, so I walked home. He’d already cooked us spaghetti for dinner.
“So, what’s happening with Vel and Emmie?”
“I don’t know, you tell me,” Reuben answered, shovelling pasta into his mouth.
He handed me the other bowl.
I scooped pasta and sauce into my mouth, not caring how hot it was, because it quenched my hunger.
“How was the carnies meeting?” Reuben wanted to know.
He could have been changing the subject, but he was probably just genuinely interested.
“Yeah, alright,” I confirmed. “There was a fair bit of discussion about cat species.”
Reuben spoke with a questioning tone, which urged me to go on.
“They wanted Monica to commit to Sri Lankan Leopards.”
“And what did she say?”
“She said that Melbourne Zoo is breeding snow leopards.”
“Good. You know, snow leopards would fit well in Tasmania.”
I tilted my head to the side, pondering the thought.
“Personally, I’m always going to have a connection to Sumatran animals. They’re the animals, particularly the primates, which my mum grew up with and my grandparents told us stories about. That’s the reason for my connection to them, to the extent that I have one.”
I finished my food and accepted Reuben’s empty bowl.
“I think that they’re doing the right thing.” A smile came onto my lips as I got up from the lounge. “Sri Lankan Leopards are an endangered species. I reckon they’re right.”
With that, I walked off.
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.