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Skin

I arrived at work first thing this morning, dropping my bag off in the staffroom and smiling politely to Patrick in greeting.


“Hey.”


“Hi.”


Patrick removed the lid off his bottle and took a swig.


“You know, we were thinking of going away camping this weekend. Do you want to come?”


I smiled.


“That would be lovely,” I accepted, before I had the chance to say no.


“Fantastic.”


Patrick departed the staffroom. I stuffed around for a minute so that I wouldn’t be right behind him. Eventually, though, I needed to get to work. If I’d put in a little bit of effort, then I would be able to take the time for the TAG meetings. At nine, I returned to the staffroom and logged in, but I struggled to concentrate on what Isaac was saying. Therefore, I turned off my camera and ducked out of the meeting quickly, so that I could grab myself some food on quick sale. Once I returned, I knew that I’d missed a little bit, but that wasn’t the end of the world.


“Not much for us this week, although we’re planning on obtaining a pair of lovebirds,” Isaac mentioned. “The exhibit space has just cleared up for them.”


I wondered where this would be within the zoo. Presumably it would be within the African rainforest area, given Reuben’s commitment to return the zoo to zoogeographic precincts. I recalled the conversations we’d had during my time at the zoo, about expanding the bird collection. The birds seemed like they were a metaphor for the plights of many other smaller species within the region’s zoos.


“You’re keen to receive birds from program species, aren’t you?”


“Well, Acarda Zoo hasn’t received accreditation yet.”


My heart thumped faster. I didn’t want to advocate for myself, even though there was no time like the present.


“Yes, but that’s in the planning,” Isaac reminded. “Right, Jumilah?”


“Yes. It is. We’re still planning on being open by the end of the year.”


At the conclusion of the meeting, I returned to the checkouts. My gaze caught Maryam’s swollen stomach. Her work uniform barely fit. Maryam needed to wear her green striped Woolworths shirt over a white undershirt, buttons undone. Maryam smoothed her hand over her belly. She stifled a yawn, then smiled as the next customer started unloading her groceries. I noticed Maryam’s rings catch the light. It can be unforgiving, working under fluorescent tubes all day. I’d much prefer wide, open spaces. The customer shuffled away with her trolley, from the checkout next to mine.


“It’s funny,” Maryam mused, as she was able to take a quick break. “I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been.”


“Well, you’re pregnant,” I mentioned, as if I needed to remind her.


I scanned a loaf of sliced wholemeal bread.


“Yeah, exactly.”


Maryam took a swig of water. She perked up in time for the next customer, scanning her groceries and engaging in small talk.


“When are you due?”


“Beginning of January,” Maryam told the customer. “I know, right, you’d think it was next week.”


“I was only going to say that you’re glowing.”


“Oh, thank you, you’re a brilliant liar, Jumilah Fioray.”


I offered her a laugh and a smile. Maryam’s life had changed almost as much as mine over the last ten months or so. Maryam patted her stomach.


“Well, I’m getting closer and closer to the stage where we’d be out of the woods. Hopefully, though, this little cowboy will stay put for a little while longer.”


“For sure.”


When a customer arrived, I needed to get back to work and serve them. I could hear Patrick’s voice across the store, although I couldn’t see him, and didn’t know where he was working. With plenty of customers to serve, I tried not to become distracted by his presence. Of all the tasks available in the supermarket, working on the checkout was one of the least risky. I glanced at my watch.


“Oh.”


“What?”


“It’s almost one-thirty, that’s all.”


“Take a break, it’s alright.”


“Thank you,” I replied, then headed off to the staffroom and joined the primate TAG meeting.


“First things first,” Reuben spoke up, “I’d like to wish Christine a happy birthday.”


For a moment, I thought she might have been about to cry.


“Thank you. That is very sweet of you.”


I wondered how old she was. Forties, probably, but I couldn't really tell.


“Alright, let’s move onto the member reports,” Christine decided.


The grin couldn’t be removed from her face.


“I just wanted to update you on a rather enlightening conversation I had recently.”


I sat forward.


“Many of you would be aware about a non-ZAA facility, Kalgoorlie Game Park, which is in, well, Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.”


I wondered why Don was telling this story. As he spoke, I scanned the walls behind him. Don, for sure, was older than Christine.


“From a primate perspective, significantly, they house a gorilla family and a small mandrill troop.”


“Where did they import them from?”


“Well, the male was from Reid Park in the US and the females were from Lisbon. They’re half-sisters themselves, I think.”


It would be good if the little troop were able to breed at Kalgoorlie, but perhaps not if the animals were outside of the ZAA breeding program. There was every risk that these valuable genetics would be lost to the global population, either way. Don didn’t have to say it out loud for me to know what he was proposing. Moving the mandrills from Kalgoorlie to Adelaide Zoo, or Monarto, would result in a larger troop. I presumed that the animals must have been young and capable of contributing to the breeding population.


“It’s always good to be educating the public,” Don outlined. “For instance, even with our small troop, we have keeper talks where we show visitors how mandrills feed and groom themselves. It contributes to our purpose of promoting conservation.”


“Well, I don’t like your chances,” Reuben interjected.


“Doesn’t mean we can’t try.”


This was a more cut-throat approach than I usually would have expected from Don. On one hand, I felt sorry for those at Kalgoorlie Game Park, despite their ostentatious game. I tried to compare them to Steve Barnett’s park at Richmond, albeit with a lot more exotic animals.


“Have you looked into it?”


“I’ve done the best I can,” Blessing insisted. “This country is a big place, that’s for sure. I would generally recommend a gently-gently approach, but, truth be told, I don’t know what the right thing to do is in this situation.”


“Raffa, what are your thoughts on mandrills?” Reuben wanted to know.


“We would be keen to house a group in the future, that’s for sure.”


“Yeah, good, mate, that’s great, mate,” Reuben responded.


“Let’s move onto the member reports,” Christine urged. “Crocodylus Park?”


“Hi.” The representative was one I hadn’t seen before. “I’m Warren Glover, nice to meet you, we hold baboons and I’m sorry to say that two of our males have died within the last week, they were very old and came to the end of their time.”


“I’m sorry to hear about that.”


“Thank you,” Warren responded. “Oh, I promise you we haven’t fed them to the crocs.”


I didn’t think that he was making a good impression, but it wasn’t my place to say anything.


“We would also be keen to join the Komodo Dragon program, given our focus on reptilian species, as well as the primates.”


“Let’s discuss this during the reptile meeting, yeah?”


“Yeah, alright.”


“Fantastic,” Christine agreed. “Darling Downs Zoo?”


“One of our female red-handed tamarins has given birth.”


“That’s a historic occasion.”


“Yes, it is,” Raffa confirmed. “Early days, of course, but we’re really pleased. There have been two babies born.”


“That’s really wonderful, Raffa.”


“Melbourne Zoo?”


“I just wanted to raise that Kyabram Fauna Park, which is local to us in Victoria, has included in the census planning that they wish to acquire both ring-tailed and ruffed lemur. Why I mention this is because we currently have a male group of ruffeds and a female group of ring-taileds.”


“And I take it you’d like to transfer some of your lemurs to this facility,” Gerard supposed.


“Yes, I believe that would be a good course of action,” Reuben confirmed. “By sending the female ring-taileds away, we can receive an all-male group of ring-taileds.”


“And are you thinking of the group from Queensland?”


Reuben nodded his head.


“Yes, that would be my preference.”


“Alright, let’s get that sorted out.”


Thankfully, nobody objected to the plan.


“Also, we’ve moved our new male colobus from Canberra into the vacated capuchin exhibit. Mapenzi will join him there soon, once we’ve completed mesh introductions.”


“Those two exhibits are right next door, are they?” Don checked.


“Yes, they are.”


“Do you have plans for the vacated ruffed lemur exhibit?”


“I would be keen to be able to house a breeding group, or at least a breeding pair.”


“Are you going to expand your orangutan facilities once the elephants are moved to Werribee?”


Reuben flashed a knowing smile.


“Is there anything else you’d like to share this week, Reuben?” Christine checked.


“Ah, yes, just one more thing.” He grinned. “We moved our pair of Golden-Lion Tamarins into our Amazon aviary.”


I thought that they’d look nice amidst the colour of the birds.


“Monarto Safari Park?”


“I’ve identified three colobus as potentials for import. The male, Kibale, and the female, Kabalega, are both currently located at Howletts Wild Animal Park in the United Kingdom and they are unrelated to one another.”


“Sounds good,” Reuben affirmed, “so that’s two animals.”


“And the third, Kia, was born on 1st September 2018 at London Zoo. I would identify her as a good option for Melbourne Zoo, Reuben, for pairing with Mkasu, given that she’s a young, healthy, mother-reared animal and, in my opinion, would be a good breeding partner for him.”


“Yes, absolutely. Are you planning to import additional females?”


“Ideally, yes,” Blessing confirmed, “but for now, it’s difficult to source animals. A further import of females from the US might be valuable going forward, although, if we’re able to import these initial three and transfer Izara from Canberra, that’s a good first start.”


“Taronga Zoo?”


“I want to give an update about our plans to breed from Johari, our female gorilla, through artificial insemination. She’s been trained to take blood without a GA, and we’ve confirmed she’s not currently pregnant.”


“So, are you proceeding with the AI?”


“Yes, we’ve decided that we’re going to do it ourselves with the assistance of human reproductive specialists.”


“Werribee Open Range Zoo?”


“Nothing for us.”


The meeting ended and I got back to work. Really, not much had changed. I left work to find that it was pouring rain, although I had my jacket with me, so I put it on over my bag and battled my way home on my bike.


“Reuben’s been calling all day,” Mum told me as she got the pie out of the oven. “Wouldn’t tell me what he wanted to talk about, just that he needed to tell you something.”


She set the pie down on the cooling rack.


“Is everything alright, Jumilah?”


“Yeah, it’s fine.”


I tried to keep my nerve. It didn’t make sense that Reuben would ring the home phone, also taking into account that I’d seen him myself earlier on in the day during the primate TAG meeting, and nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. Mum served us both giant bowls of apple pie and ice cream for dinner. I love the taste of the pie too hot and the ice cream too cold, the combination making my teeth a little sensitive but just the right mix of flavours together. Tonight, I no longer felt like eating, despite how delicious it smelled. I didn’t want to make a big fuss in front of my parents, though, so I made myself eat. While Mum was doing the dishes, I decided that I ought to return Reuben’s calls. It was getting late, but not for him.


 

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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