top of page

PETA

“Today is a beautiful day,” Jamila assured.


She poured orange juice into a glass. Jamila handed one to me, then poured her own.


“It is,” I confirmed, then took a sip.


After breakfast, we made the drive to Werribee for the last time. I soaked in everything I could of the blue sky. As the zoo drew closer, I anticipated Whitlam slowing down the car and pulling into the driveway of the staff carpark, a puff of dust rising underneath the wheels. Once he parked, I stepped out and took a deep breath. We still had a work day to complete, and I would be working with the ungulate team. A smile came onto my lips. Whitlam and I drove out onto the savannah, ensuring we stayed at a slow pace so as to not alarm the animals. We scanned the blackbuck herds – an Indian antelope taking the place of their African counterparts. There hadn’t been much opportunity until the passing of the bovid IRA. The chain was nothing fancy and the wooden cross would hardly glint in the sun, but I still made sure to keep it underneath my uniform when I was working with animals. Something of a smile came onto my lips as I pictured my grandfather, in the vivid colour of his older years as well as the sepia tones in which I pictured his younger days. Whitlam and I finally returned to the main areas of the zoo. We encountered Jamila.


“Jumilah, I was wondering whether you’d like to come with me.” She wiped her brow. “Oh, just if you’d like to.”


“The hyaenas are coming in today, aren’t they?”


“Yes.”


Finishing off my time at Werribee with a new arrival was the icing on the cake. I knew that I would miss this place, even though it made me yearn for home, too. Whitlam had no objections. Therefore, I followed Jamila. This was a procedure I knew relatively well. However, this time we needed to wear personal protective equipment. The forklift offloaded the crate from the back of the truck, positioning it into the right spot before the opening to the quarantine cage. Jamila, fully kitted out in protective gear, climbed on top of it to open it. She lifted the slide. The hyaenas were released into the space where they would spend the next six weeks in quarantine. Once we were finished, we stripped off the extra layers and discarded them. I felt like I could finally breathe again. While I understood why these measures needed to be taken, it didn’t make them comfortable.


“Would we have time to grab a bite to eat for lunch?”


Jamila laughed.


“It won’t exactly be gourmet.”


I shrugged my shoulders. Really, I just needed food in my belly. We decided to treat ourselves to Werribee catering, also run by the company run by Bob’s wife Brenda. Hopefully they would still be able to see as much of each other once he moved to the outer suburbs along with the elephants. I was thankful that Jamila paid for my lunch as a goodbye treat. We found a spot to sit down and eat.


“What’s the matter?” Jamila asked, with half a mouthful.


“I’m just thinking about how much has changed,” I admitted, “and how much is still going to change.”


I’d gained valuable experience at Werribee. The only carnivores we would be working with – at least to begin with – would be the dholes and the Tasmanian devils. They were manageable, but I knew that it would be an uphill battle to re-establish a collection of dholes in Australia.


“Some people say phasing out animals is the only way to truly take care of them.”


“Well, we can’t say that we’re not supportive of animal welfare. I mean, Adelaide Zoo, they must be the most supportive of animal welfare--.”


I choked out a laugh, trying my best to prevent my food from spraying across my lap.


“You’re too funny.”


Jamila finished her lunch.


“Werribee is very focused on African animals. It can be frustrating at times. You could have other Asian ungulates, like nilgai or something, in with the elephants. They could even cohabitate. Hopefully once the waterhole is properly built, we’ll be able to move things along.”


“Maybe even have orangutans at Werribee?”


“Like the hybrids?”


I shrugged. It was highly unlikely that a full rainforest precinct would be developed at Werribee, due to the extensive infrastructure it would require.


“I don’t think that separating them is a good idea, unless there needs to be much more space at Melbourne Zoo for the babies of Menyaru.” Jamila let out a laugh. “Here you go, you’ve got me talking about primates.”


“It would be incredible, although I don’t know if constant change is the best idea.”


She chuckled.


“Well, you know, even with the vervets, there are going to be surprises from time to time. I know that purebreds would be preferable. There would be, scientifically, the opportunity to test the animals we have, to make sure one way or the other which subspecies or mix they are.”


“Would it be worth spending the money?”


My instinct was to disagree, but I felt that was influenced by my personal interest in southeast Asian species. All I could do was trust Jamila’s perspective.


“It would be if we’re planning on continuing with them.”


“I just wouldn’t want to take over the area which is dedicated towards breeding Australian species and making sure that endangered animals can be released back into the wild. We don’t have that tangible impact everywhere.”


“That’s not what everyone thinks, though.”


A breeze ruffled my hair. I understood the perspective, even though I personally found it to be a little annoying. We liked to think that we were able to rise above financial considerations, but I knew that wasn’t really true. Swallowing, I felt a little embarrassed. This wasn’t perhaps how I wanted this to go, but I couldn’t avoid it.


“You know, it would be quite spectacular,” I found myself musing.


Rather than taking the conversation further, I fetched my phone. I flicked through social media for a bit, then looked at my emails. When I returned to Instagram, my eyes bulged at a graphic reporting a silverback gorilla’s escape.


“Wait.”


I swallowed. The cogs turned over in my mind to determine what had happened. At first I found myself not believing. It seemed impossible. Just as I showed it to Jamila, I noticed that this hadn’t taken place in Australia, but in the US. All I could hope was that the gorilla, and the humans, would be fine.


“I’ll get in touch with Hamish, he’d probably want to know.”


Jamila retrieved her phone from her pocket. She fired off a text message to the others as I scrolled across to the second image.


“You would think that they would do everything they could to make sure that the gorilla was recaptured safely.”


“I’d hope that would be the case.”


I tried to search for more details, but sadly I learned the gorilla had been shot. I could hear the construction noise from the development of the elephant complex while we were working in the late afternoon. A heaviness remained over me, as a result of the news about the silverback gorilla from the United States. It was a tragedy to have it happen anywhere. Eventually the sun dipped and it was time for us to depart from Werribee Open Range Zoo.


“We can come in tomorrow, surely?” I requested.


“Well, of course, we can. I believe the three of us all have a day off, though, as far as I’m aware you’ve got a flight to catch.”


“Well, I do--.”


“We’ll see what we can do.”


As we drove away from Werribee, I knew it possibly wasn’t for the last time. Something felt strange within my stomach. Was it a pang of hunger, or guilt? I couldn’t be sure, although I was looking forward to dinner once we arrived back at the sharehouse. While Whitlam drove, Jamila was flicking through her emails in the passenger seat. The gorilla escape remained within my mind. Whitlam let out a soft sigh.


“Tell me what’s happening in the world,” he asked.


“Oh, not much,” Jamila replied.


She typed with both thumbs.


“Has there ever been an escape in Australia like what happened in the US?”


“One of the gorillas escaped from Taronga at one point, that’s as close as we’ve got.”


“It was quite some years ago, I think.”


“Thanks for clarifying.”


I didn’t think that the statement was intended as sarcastic. Tone of voice could be easily policed, although that wasn’t always a good thing. I’d already figured out the escape hadn’t been at Taronga, through Instagram.


“You know, there’s a conference coming up on animal organ transplants,” Jamila mentioned. “Do you reckon that any of us should go?”


Nobody seemed particularly keen for the meantime.


“I didn’t realise that organ transplants were carried out in wild animals,” I admitted.


“I know it’s happened before. There’s been a kidney transplant performed on a tiger at Dreamworld.”


“Good news, then.”


“Well, not exactly. The recipient tiger still died.”


“It was worth a try.”


The car fell silent. I found myself more shocked by that outcome than I was anticipating. Checking out the window, I knew that we were nearly home.


“We should make homemade pizza tonight.”


“That’s a good shout, actually.”


I beamed.


“You know it makes sense.”


Jamila checked over her shoulder.


“What’s your go-to, Jumilah?”


“Ooh, I love a good bit of homemade pesto. My Nonna’s is delicious, you can’t beat it.”


“Would you like some tonight?”


I thought it sounded like wishful thinking. At the same time, the hypotheticals could be interesting.


“Well, I reckon that the Safeway version isn’t quite the same thing.”


Jamila cocked an eyebrow.


“I’m happy to--.”


“Look, I know what it’s like for people to think--.”


“Let’s do it.”


We made a makeshift pesto pasta dinner. I found myself glancing towards the windows as Jamila and I made our way to the house to tuck into our food. She was scrolling through her phone when I noticed her expression falter.


“What’s the matter?”


“Oh, PETA has called for an investigation into what happened in the US, you know, with the gorilla.”


I needed to go to the toilet, but I couldn’t have been bothered getting off the lounge. Eventually I knew I would go to bed. I played with Kakek’s cross, feeling anxious. Finally, Jamila and I finished our meals, as questions swirled in my mind.


“Do you think the transfer’s going to be delayed?”


“I’m honestly not sure.”


“It would make more sense than not.”


This was dismaying news. It had been a challenging time at Adelaide Zoo, as well. Maybe this was exactly the space which everyone needed. There were plenty of male gorillas already in Australia. We didn’t have to worry that much, even if our chances of importing from the US were dashed by this tragedy. I tried not to take either outcome too personally.


“So, about tomorrow,” I finally spoke up again.


“There are other people rostered on. They do like to give us a break occasionally.”


Even though it was a dream job, it didn’t mean that it wasn’t physically and mentally taxing, as well. If we didn’t end up going back to Werribee, that would be fine.


“I’ll see what I can do,” Jamila promised.


“Thank you.”


It didn’t surprise me that she would try her best to give me a spectacular last day on the mainland. Whitlam wandered into the loungeroom.


“What’s the matter?” Jamila enquired.


“Well, if they were able to import, they would import, straight away, I think. With the Australian Rhino Project, hopefully they will be able to acquire that way.”


Whitlam shook his head.


“That’s not what I was talking about,” Jamila corrected, and filled him in.


“Look, personally, don’t tell Hamish, but I’m not as worried about that.” I found myself listening, presuming Whitlam would elaborate. “What I’m concerned about is that the government could use this to pull back from our on-the-ground conservation work.”


I nodded. Finally, Hamish did walk into the room. Jamila and Whitlam took the responsibility of filling him in. I was glad that I didn’t have to unfurl that one. There were so many uncertainties. It wasn’t like it was guaranteed that Adelaide would be able to secure a silverback from America in the first place.


“What do you think, Jumilah?” Hamish enquired.


“I mean, it’s just a different situation. We’re in another place again, because there isn’t a government-run zoo in Tasmania, let alone three of them focusing in different areas. In some ways, that leads to the development of lots of small parks, because there isn’t a monopoly like there might be in Victoria. I don’t know.”


Of course, our development as a zoo was specifically impacted by what had happened in Sumatra. I would never forget my grandfather's life, and also his death. A message came through about Johari.


“I mean, anyone could figure that out.”


I didn’t want to ask the question, but I found it spilling out of me, nonetheless.


“Surely they could keep trying, both naturally and through artificial insemination?”


It seemed like it wasn’t going to work out, but I still held hope.


“They have many of the same pregnancy complications as in humans. That means that they should be able to receive many of the same treatments, but it’s not quite as simple as that.”


Eventually we decided to go to bed. The others didn’t need a shower, so I chose to take the opportunity, gathering my pyjamas and taking them into the house’s single bathroom upstairs. My body ached a little bit. I knew that the work wouldn’t get easier once I was back in Tasmania, but I hoped I would get to have a little bit of a break. I ducked into the bathroom, discarding my clothes at my feet. Likely I would have another shower in the morning, but as the hot water ran over me, I continued to reflect on the lasts I was experiencing – the last day at Werribee, the last shower. When I got out, I dried myself and changed into my pyjamas, slotting Kakek’s cross back around my neck before returning to my room. I’d fallen off to sleep, and then I awoke up with a start, the vision of the gorilla above me. I thought I’d screamed, but I mustn’t have. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I realised that I had nothing to fear. Gingerly, and cradling my thumping heart, I rolled onto my side. We would be alright. Everything would be alright. I could hear soft noises through the wall. Letting out a heavy sigh, I rolled onto my side and sunk my ear into the pillow, trying to get some sleep.


 

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.


0 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Aurora

The horizon was awash with a lime green glow. Above it, the sky sparkled, stars so visible amidst a sea of purple, the contrast stark. Right over us the hues darkened, to a vivid shade of navy blue. A

Rehome

The thought of the Kalgoorlie animals gnawed away at me, figures which have loomed in the undercurrent of my dealings within the ZAA, but as ghostly figures, rather than main characters. Now they were

Insecure

Monday afternoon and another primate TAG meeting rolled around. My brain felt scattered. “Let’s move onto the member reports.” I draped my hand over my stomach. While I would have appreciated a lie-do

bottom of page