The plane finally landed with a thud, then ground to a halt. I waited for a moment.
“Alright, I think that we’re good to go.”
I fastened my seatbelt as the cargo hold of the plane opened. My chest felt tighter, but I couldn’t cry, not yet, as I strode out from the underbelly of the plane. Reuben had been waiting for us. Looking up at the trees, I wished that the gibbons could swing around in them.
“Are we good to go?” I asked.
“Yes,” he confirmed. “Let’s offload the animals.”
Assisted by trolleys, we carefully removed the crates. Staff from the airstrip and the quarantine station gave their orders. I followed dutifully.
“Thank you for having us.”
I was ready for all of that to be over, so we could rest. The animals, too, were on edge and needed peace from the chaos.
“We’re just doing our job,” one man assured, in a broad Australian accent.
I felt uneasy, but I didn’t say anything.
“We’ll have to inspect the animals and inspect the plane, to complete our checks.”
“Very well, go ahead,” Reuben allowed.
The quarantine man nodded his head, but we continued to move crates of animals off the plane.
“This is what they do, you see,” Reuben explained. “They mean no harm. We have these tarps down on the ground, to prevent the leak of urine.”
“Right,” I replied, puffing a little.
Being from Hobart, I’m still not used to humidity. There were large areas as part of the quarantine station, both indoor and outdoor. One of the locals had put together a plan which we followed, to get the animals into their temporary homes. Everything fell into place. It felt like it was happening too quickly, my head feeling like it was spinning, but I feel grateful, deep in my heart.
“Is that everything?” I checked.
Reuben nodded his head.
“Did you want to feed them?”
“Yes,” Nanek confirmed. “We were able to bring some feed on the plane, but I’d been told that there is more here. We could only bring so much through customs, and fit so much with the animals.”
“Yes, we have food for the animals.”
It felt too good to be true, having moved in a whirlwind.
Each of us was assigned an enclosure, to make sure that the animals were fed. This seemed to quieten them down, and hopefully settle them from the unrest of the long trip. A small house on the island is where we’ll stay the night. Adam, the local man, unlocked it for us.
“Thanks for having us,” I gushed, feeling a little breathless.
“My pleasure. Would you like a cuppa? I can put the kettle on.”
“That would be lovely, thank you,” I accepted.
I still didn’t know how Adam fit in.
Adam started preparing cups of tea for us all.
“Please, take a seat.”
I sat down at the kitchen table.
“What happens now?”
“Well, we need to find new homes for the animals.”
Nanek seemed determined, even though I felt worried about her. The shock must not have hit yet.
“Reuben, I believe that you’ve been making some plans.”
“Yes,” he confirmed, retrieving his laptop.
He placed it on the table and opened it up, turning it on. We waited for it to load, while the kettle boiled. Adam went back and forth, handing out cups of tea, too hot for the summer but still welcome. I was in a daze and I probably still am, so maybe I’m just projecting onto Nanek when I worry about how she must be feeling. Really I don’t know anything, but thoughts were forming in my mind.
“Thank you,” I murmured, as Adam sat down.
I reached for my tea, but thankfully I took heed of the steam rising from it, and waited to take a sip.
“The siamangs are a young pair,” Nanek reminded. “They would be welcome in Australia.”
Reuben cocked an eyebrow, but his eyes remained focused on his laptop screen.
“Adelaide could do with fresh breeding animals.”
“Stop tempting me.”
“Australia would be the best option,” Adam chimed in, “although of course it’s not the only option, and not necessarily the easiest. Of course, I would keep them here for years, but--.”
“Thank you, but no thank you.”
“How long can the animals stay here?”
That hadn’t been a question which I’d yet learned the answer to.
“Well, they would need to quarantine for a month if they’re going to enter Australia. We’re not booked out for the next three months.”
The clock had already started to tick. I want to work with animals. Doing that while staying in Tasmania was going to prove too big a mountain to climb, unless I wanted to work with native animals, pets or farm animals. This isn’t exactly where my ambition lies, even though I’m often too sheepish to admit it, because it sounds like a lofty goal.
“There’s one pair of siamangs in Launceston, isn’t there? Or are they brothers?”
I know it would be a big deal for Nanek to lose her animals completely, even if it is for their own safety. It would be best if she could stay caring for them.
“We sent them brothers,” Reuben answered. “The studbook keeper will assign them a female.”
I could hear them calling.
“Well, we have a female right here,” I pointed out.
Reuben looked me in the eye.
“But I don’t need to tell you that siamangs mate for life.”
“You’re telling me you’ve never separated a pair?”
“Well, of course we have, when necessary. We have to ensure genetic diversity.”
“And I don’t blame you for doing that, of course I’m not. All I’m saying is that these animals could contribute to that genetic diversity.”
“It’s not that simple, Jumilah.”
“What would we have to do to move the animals to Tasmania, to set up our own breeding facility on the farm?” The question came out of me, as if it burst from my subconscious.
“Well, you’d have to have an exotic animal holding licence.”
“How long would that take?”
“Years, probably, I’m sorry. I’m not sure whether we’re just getting distracted from the issue.”
“Nanek, you’ve cared for these animals since you’ve rescued them. You would want to be able to stay with them, right?”
My heart thumped.
“If the animals were in Hobart with us, then that would be possible.”
We had never talked about this before, no matter the conversations we’d had, in hushed tones.
“They could stay here in the meantime, or move to Melbourne and Taronga.”
“Well, yes, of course that could happen,” Reuben allowed, “but to get the animals onto the mainland, that’s a very different thing to getting them out of Indonesia.”
“Is it, really?”
Mum had filled me in on how difficult it had been to obtain permits, even though it happened quickly.
“I know that not all of the species are currently bred in Australia.”
Finally, I looked at Mum. She wasn’t giving anything away. Now the idea is in my mind, I can’t let it go. I can see it now, a jungle habitat on the outskirts of Hobart. Reuben didn’t seem like he agreed.
“The Agile Gibbons, for instance,” he noted. “I don’t believe we’ll be able to bring them to the mainland.”
Disappointment bloomed within my chest. I didn’t see what the point was. We’d gotten them this far, at breakneck speed. I know that’s saved their lives.
“There aren’t any of them in the country already, there’s no breeding program for them to go into. The animals which Jelita has been caring for, they’re elderly.”
“I know that they won’t breed. Perhaps it’s silly to just think that they could live their lives here.”
The alternative must have been overseas, where there are others of the species.
“Yeah, I’m sorry, but it is,” Reuben confirmed, pulling a face. “That’s not how the international transfer of animals works.”
I finally sipped from my tea.
“And that’s actually a good thing, because it’s supposed to prevent smuggling. We know that our hearts are in the right place, but even then, you’d know that it’s been pretty dicey.”
“It has been difficult,” Mum finally spoke up.
I couldn’t bring myself to look at her.
“When I was a little girl, I loved living with animals. They were the early days, when Ibu and Bapak first founded the sanctuary.”
A brief smile came onto her lips, although it was tinged with sadness.
“When we were married, we had the farm. Of course that was a different thing, and we had to give that away. We haven’t had animals for a while, but we still have the property, so we would have the space to have animals if we were allowed to.”
“Not that I would think that we would have the money.”
“Which is always the snag.”
We’d afforded things so far, through Nanek and Kakek’s meagre savings.
“I would love the animals to go to Australia, where I could still care for them and spend time with them,” Nanek admitted.
“I just don’t want you to get your hopes up,” Reuben insisted. “When we started this, we were talking about Europe, or the US, or maybe somewhere else in Asia, but safe from poachers. I didn’t make any promises about Australia. I’m sorry, but I just can’t do that, especially in relation to starting your own sanctuary or zoo, but maybe that’s just none of my business after all.”
It wasn’t, really, but I never would have said that out loud.
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.