“The zookeeper killed in a tiger attack at Perth Zoo has been identified as carnivore keeper Joel Donovan.”
We should have been leaving. Instead, we remained frozen in front of the screen, as the news played footage. A makeshift memorial had formed outside the zoo.
“We should probably go,” Jamila finally murmured, although her voice sounded like a bad dream.
All of us lingered for a little bit longer, until Hamish switched off the TV. He gently placed the remote back down where he had located it. Once we did make it out to the car, the recycling bin stood by the kerb, yellow lid open. I scampered down and wheeled it back up the driveway. Therefore, I was last into the car, in the back seat behind Whitlam, who was driving. He took us to the zoo with little conversation. There was little that we really could say. We arrived at the zoo and Whitlam parked in the staff carpark. After we got out and closed the doors, he locked it again behind us. We trudged towards the office to clock in. As the four of us logged in for the morning, Des emerged from his office.
“Hello, good to see you this morning. We are going to have a quick staff meeting.”
We nodded our heads sombrely. The zookeepers gathered.
“I just wanted to let you know that Joel Donovan’s funeral will be held on Saturday. We’ll be organising for those who wish to go to be able to attend.”
Immediately, I glanced towards Jamila, Whitlam and Hamish. I wanted to be able to attend the funeral. It just felt right, as much as something could at this time. While I knew it wasn’t entirely my decision to make, I hoped that something would be possible.
“The funeral will be held in Perth and is being organised by Isobel Carey and Joel’s parents.”
I took a laboured breath.
“That’s all, thank you. Your professionalism has not gone unnoticed at this very difficult time.”
We didn’t really have the energy for work, but it still needed to be done. Werribee is due to be sending a group of four male nyala to Sydney, so they needed to undergo vet checks in preparation for the move. I tagged along with Whitlam, who successfully isolated the animals in question from the rest of the group. One by one, Bailey knocked them out. He seemed to perform the checks in record time, which was necessary in order to prevent alarm. Thankfully, all four nyala received clean bills of health, so they’ll be able to be moved shortly. I’m not exactly sure when, but it’s being sorted. After the health checks were done, we left the area.
“You can join Hamish for the afternoon if you wish,” Whitlam told me.
“Alright,” I agreed, “if you’re sure.”
Whitlam checked his watch.
“Hamish will be at the vervets at this time of day,” he mentioned. “Do you know where that is?”
“Yep,” I agreed, even though that wasn’t strictly true.
After I left the offices, I slipped back out into the zoo. I recalled the vervets were near the gorillas. Therefore, I just needed to get to the gorillas and I would be able to make my way around to locate Hamish.
“Do you reckon that they would send these males away?”
“Yes, at some stage, but it just depends on how things turn out. They’ve only just arrived.”
I felt a little silly for asking.
“I mean, it might depend on our friends in Queensland,” Hamish noted. “If we get more holders, then there might be a need for more silverbacks, but I just don’t know at this stage.”
I nodded my head.
“Did you know about the history there?”
“Bits and pieces.”
“There were grand plans for the largest gorilla exhibit in the world, about fifteen years ago. I know you never want to speak ill of the dead--.”
Nodding my head, I got the drift, the cause of the animosity which Hunter was in the middle of. We returned home from the zoo, the car lashed with rain all the way.
“I think I’ll just go upstairs. I’m not even hungry for dinner.”
Jamila nodded her head solemnly. Emerging from the vehicle, we scurried up to the front door, not even locking the car until we were safely out of the inclement weather. I didn’t think I’d resented spending time at the zoo before. My screaming feet begged to differ as I dragged myself up the stairs and into my bedroom. I dropped onto my bed and breathed out. The pounding in my head became harder and harder, louder and louder, so I closed my eyes for a brief moment. Jamila walked into my room, carrying a bowl of soup and a bread roll.
“I know that you said that you weren’t hungry--.”
“No, thank you, this is lovely.”
I sat up in bed, before Jamila lowered the tray carefully onto my lap.
“It’s a tiger roll.”
I ripped apart the bread and dunked a piece into my soup.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t think--.”
“It’s alright,” I assured. “Thank you for the soup. It’s lovely.”
I placed the dripping bread into my mouth.
“I would like to go to Joel Donovan’s funeral, if I’m able to.”
“Of course, you can go.”
“Are the rest of you going to make it?”
“Yes, Whitlam, Hamish and I would like to.”
I nodded my head.
“You know, carnies have got to stick together. Joel always reckoned that. He loved his animals.”
Jamila shook her head.
“I can’t believe I’m talking about him in the past tense.”
She didn’t have anything to say in response. There wasn’t really a comment which would offer solace. Another piece of trauma fitted into the jigsaw of my heart. Jamila caring about me improved my feelings, just a bit. I finished my meal.
“Would you like me to take that for you?”
“Yes, thanks, that would be great.”
I handed the tray over to Jamila. She placed it down on the floor, out of the way. As Jamila turned back to me, she yawned.
“Ah, sorry. It’s been a long day.”
“You’re not wrong.”
“Are you alright?” Jamila checked. “You know, I can stay, if you don’t want to be alone tonight.”
“No, it’s fine, you get your sleep.”
Jamila departed, taking the empty tray and flicking off the light. I burrowed underneath the covers and spent some time on my phone. My leg jigged, feeling agitated, moving towards social media like an angry addict seeking a fix. As I flicked through the tweets, I rolled onto my side, feeling sick to my stomach with grief and guilt. I feel like I’m on both sides of this – I’m undertaking work experience at a zoo, with the hope of starting at my own zoo. If Joel hadn’t been there, he wouldn’t have died – but Joel loved his carnies, he wouldn’t have lived his life any other way.
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.