Birds

I knew that Tallulah would be at work today. Already I missed her, after spending two weeks in each other’s pockets. I had the Bird TAG meeting at 9:30, then the primate TAG meeting at 1:30. My day was becoming full of zoo commitments. Patrick would be at school. Mum and Dad were at work. I made myself some breakfast, along with a cup of coffee. Sitting out on the back porch, I mentally ran through the rest of the week. Tomorrow, I have a psychologist appointment. After breakfast, I pottered around the house, then went outside and furthered the construction for a couple of hours. When I returned inside, my phone was ringing – Patrick.


“School hasn’t started yet. I just wanted to talk to you.”


“Is everything alright?”


“Yeah, of course, why wouldn’t it be?”


“Just checking.”


“How are you?”


“I’m good.”


“I’m sorry, I’ve got to go. We can talk again later. I’m sure that we’ll see each other at work.”


“See you later, Patrick.”


I joined the TAG meeting, my heart beating faster than usual.


“Welcome everyone,” Robin greeted us.


I noticed that Charlotte was attending, which surprised me a little as she’s an elephant keeper. At least, that was my understanding.


“Let’s start with studbook reports,” Robin said. “Sam, you’ve got an update regarding Australian Little Penguins.”


“Yes,” he confirmed. “I’ve received all submissions in relation to the upcoming breeding season. I’d like to propose that new animals are introduced into the colony in Canberra.”


“Well, personally, I don’t see why we would.”


I found myself interested by the idea of housing penguins. We’ve been exceptionally lucky with my grandparents running a sanctuary, although the idea of fortune sounds perverse.


“We had new animals from Melbourne two-and-a-half-years ago.”


“They haven’t bred yet,” Sam pointed out.


“Of course, they will, in time,” Geoff insisted. “We just need to give them time.”


Sam cleared his throat and took a sip of water, I suspected to buy himself thinking time.


“Look, I’ll give you one more season. We’ll reassess next year.”


“Thank you.”


“I also wanted to speak about Eastern Whipbirds, if we had time,” Sam noted. “There is a planned transfer of animals from Taronga to Adelaide Zoo.”


“We’re all on track to receive those birds,” Don confirmed.


“That’s fantastic,” Sam agreed. “I’ll let our vets know. We’ll take them up for a checkup, then we should be right to do ahead.”


“Fantastic,” Don replied. “Our aviary is all ready to go. Hopefully everything will then proceed as planned.”


“Great,” Robin chimed in. “Next, I believe we have an update about the black-winged stilt program. Firstly, does anyone have any questions which they would like to ask?”


Nobody said anything, causing an awkward pause. To be perfectly honest, I don’t even know what a black-winged stilt looks like.


“With our masterplan, we aim to extend the black-winged stilt program,” Blessing explained. “We will have holding capacity for four further breeding pairs.”


“That is great, thank you, Blessing,” Robin responded. “We appreciate Monarto’s work with the species.”


“Thank you.”


“Alright, Nikki’s up next. Take it away.”


“Thanks, Robin.”


For no explainable reason, my chest felt a little tighter. I took a sip of water to try and relieve the sensation.


“I just wanted to ask a question to you, Nikki.”


“Yes,” Nikki spoke up, her face enlarging on my screen.


She would have been in her mid-thirties, I reckon, from Healesville Sanctuary.


“How is the Orange-Bellied Parrot program going?”


Being a Tasmanian species, I’m interested in the Orange-Bellied Parrot breeding program. I considered bringing this up, but didn’t, because I didn’t feel it was my place.


“We’ve had the best season ever this year, so far,” Nikki answered.


“Oh, that’s great news,” Blessing chimed in.


Nikki shared her screen, so that she could show us some photos of the chicks.


“The sire is our proven breeding bird.”


She reached the end of the album, then stopped sharing her screen and popped back into the gallery.


“Any more questions?” Robin enquired. “We need to make a decision about the cassowary program.”


“We’re more than happy to keep the chick that we’ve bred,” Hunter noted. “We have space to house him in another exhibit in the zoo. Of course, if there is need for him to be transferred as part of the breeding program, of course I’d be agreeable for that to happen.”


“From my perspective, considering Hunter is willing to house the chick long-term, then that’s the best option in lieu of a breeding recommendation,” Robin assessed.


Nobody said anything to object.


“Well, that’s that, then.” Robin seemed to check something on her computer. “Gerard? You’re next.”


“Yes, I wanted to discuss forming splinter flocks from our flamingoes.”


“You’ve been breeding quite well, as far as I can tell.”


“Personally, I’d support the formation of a program,” Hunter said. “We could house them here.”


“If you could import them,” Reuben reminded, “which you can’t right now.”


An awkward moment of silence followed. All of a sudden, Bill’s face popped up on the screen.


“Sorry, there was traffic getting in this morning, there was an accident near the zoo.” He took a sip from his mug. “Anyway, I’m here now. I wanted to ask about the wallaby import from New Guinea.”


“We’ll follow up that conversation on Wednesday.”


This was the first I’d heard about it. Robin had a point, though – anything to do with wallabies wasn’t really within the remit of the bird TAG. The thought of importing them from New Guinea intrigued me, and I wondered if it was a collective effort.


“Oh, sure, alright,” Bill agreed.


“I just have one last thing to mention about the parrot IRA,” Robin noted. “In Australia, it’s gone to the next stage with the Department. From there, they’ll give us a decision either way, on whether the IRA will be approved.”


“That’s great, hopefully we’ll be able to follow in your footsteps,” Tessa mentioned.


“My understanding was that you didn’t have similar issues in New Zealand,” Robin pointed out with a furrowed brow. “I could very easily be wrong about that, though. I’m not as across your legislation.”


“Flamingoes we can import, but parrots are still a work in progress. There is a process underway, to implement our version of an import risk assessment.”


“Right, thank you,” Robin responded. “Are there any member reports?”


“Yes,” Malcolm confirmed. “We’re moving the kiwis which hatched last year into the nocturnal house. They’re quite confident little chicks, actually. We’ll, they’re not so little anymore.”


“You know, we wouldn’t mind kiwis here,” Don mentioned.


“Well, that’d be a turnup. Where were the last kiwis in Aus?”


“I think that we would have had the last one, about twenty years ago,” Sam answered.


“Care to swap Australia with a kiwi in exchange for a flamingo or two?” Hunter quipped.


I knew that he was joking, so found him funnier than most.


“Look, kiwis and flamingoes would be fantastic,” Don affirmed. “I don’t think we’d have enough time to properly go through it in this meeting. Kiwis are a more practical suggestion, even though we’d planned on theming our nocturnal house around Australian biomes. I’m sure with a sign or two, we could manage to include kiwi, either breeding or surplus from the breeding program if that’s all we can.”


“Is there any general business?”


“Um, I’d like to raise something, if that’s alright,” I spoke up.


“Sure, go ahead,” Robin permitted.


“I wanted to know if a decision has been made about the finch species we might be receiving.”


“Ah, yes, I can answer that,” Sam chimed in. “We’ll be looking at Gouldian Finches and Crimson Finches.”


“Thank you.”


“That’s alright,” Sam replied.


The bird TAG meeting came to an end. I recalled that I’d never gotten in touch with Cathy. For a little while I flicked through my emails, to try and find her contact details. After a while, I gave up, and decided to have a bit of a lie-down while I had some free time. Eventually, I checked my phone, then got up and I joined the primate TAG meeting.


“Firstly, Don will announce this later, but as it will inevitably come up within our discussions, I’d like to offer my condolences to the team at Adelaide Zoo. It’s a terrible blow to lose this precious orangutan infant.


“Thank you,” Don replied. “We’re all doing the best we can, especially for Merah’s wellbeing.”


Only a week ago, we’d been rejoicing at the birth of Georgia’s baby. Now, the zoo was clouded by tragedy and the loss of a miracle pregnancy.


“It just so happens that we’re conducting an orangutan program review.”


My heart felt heavier than I wanted it to, on behalf of Isobel and Don, and of course Merah and Kluet.


“If we’re going to keep Bornean Orang-utans in the region, it would be reasonable to breed and house Borneans in New Zealand and Sumatrans in Australia.”


“With respect, Christine, I believe the decision should be made by the holding zoos, in conjunction with the studbook keeper,” Angelique retorted.


“Look, I acknowledge the position you’re in with your Sumatrans,” Gerard said. “We’ve known what it feels like to be the odd one out.”


“We won’t be swapping to Borneans,” Angelique declared. “When we took on Sumatrans, they were the regional priority.”


“I’d argue they still are,” Bill asserted.


“Borneans are now critically endangered too,” Gerard pointed out. “That’s why we chose to stick with them.”


I noticed a hint of a smile in the corner of his lips.


“There’s a mother-daughter dyad at Barcelona. Their only male is the older son of the older female; their breeding male has died. They would like to import another female to breed with him, as the mother was wild-born, so these are genetically valuable animals. Space-wise, it would be reasonable to move the mother and daughter on, so we would be more than happy to take them.”


“And then they’d breed with your male, Bayu, down the track?” Christine sought confirmation.


“Yes, that would be the plan.”


“Would you breed Bayu and Mawar again?”


“We would be working with the studbooks, but I would think yes.”


“Right, thank you.”


“I anticipate we would breed them one last time,” Gerard elaborated. “If that infant is male, then he can become our next breeding male. Potentially, if the infant is female, we’d try for one more. We’d be trying for a boy, but also to give that female the chance to witness her mother rear a baby.”


“And then when would you start breeding Bayu with the Spanish females?”


“Again, that would depend on the studbook, but hopefully sooner rather than later, especially for the mother. The daughter isn’t probably quite yet at the age to breed.”


“Alright, let’s move onto the Sumatran program.”


“Menyaru is valuable to the region,” Reuben asserted.


“Perhaps you could hold your young male until we’re finished breeding with Dinar,” Bill proposed. “Then, he could be transferred to Perth to breed with whatever females we have at the time from our line.”


“With all due respect, I think that’s unreasonable. I’m willing to import from outside the region. I would like to import two Sumatran females from overseas. There is a breeding group in Israel.”


“Have you spoken with the international studbook keeper about this?” Bill wanted to know.


“Yes, I have,” Reuben confirmed.


“Right.”


“Bill, I am the species coordinator,” Reuben insisted. “Zoos Victoria, not Perth Zoo. I understand that you used to, but not anymore."


“Just out of interest,” Don spoke up, “where is the international studbook held currently?”


“Ah, Bronx,” Reuben answered. “Becca Hamilton is the studbook keeper.”


“And is that for the Sumatran program?” Bill wanted to know.


“She holds both studbooks. We manage our own Sumatrans, but international cooperation is useful.”


“Exactly right, mate.”


“I understand that you have breeding recs, Bill,” Reuben pointed out. “How is that going? Have there been matings recorded?”


“Yes, I believe that matings have been recorded, between our male and both females.”


“Right, well, that’s a good start,” Reuben responded, but he still seemed a little frustrated with Bill.


I sensed he felt like he was being drip-fed information.


“Have you preg tested either of the females?”


“I’ll speak to our Head of Primates.”


“Right.”


“Hopefully they’ll be positive,” I chimed in.


There was an awkward moment of silence.


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


Christine smiled briefly, in the hope of keeping the peace, then took a small sip from her glass of water.


“Adelaide Zoo?”


“We’re sad to let you know, as you heard earlier, that our baby-orangutan, Merah’s baby, didn’t survive. The baby was a female, she’s still with Merah. We will keep her there for welfare reasons. Merah and the baby are being monitored by keepers twenty-four/seven, and we’ll recover the baby when we can.”


“Auckland Zoo?”


“We’ve had an emperor tamarin birth during the last week.”


I could tell that Gerard was trying to conceal his excitement.


“That’s great, mate,” Don responded, which seemed like important praise.


“Thank you.”


“Beerwah?”


“Unfortunately, one of our male lemurs has died.”


“I’m sorry to hear that,” Bill responded with compassion. “Do you know the cause of death?”


“He experienced liver failure. I’ll let you know if we find out anything else.”


“Please do. Looking at the report you gave through to the studbook, an otherwise healthy young animal like that shouldn’t just drop dead.”


It felt like an accusation, which caused my heart to beat faster.


“Darling Downs Zoo?”


“What would you say about importing saki from overseas?” Raffa asked.


“I mean, I get what you’re saying, saki would be lovely,” Reuben agreed, “but at the moment, we have other regional priorities.”


Raffa appeared a little dismayed.


“But, if you can get the EEP to agree with you, it’s not for us to object to that.”


“Don’t worry, I’m not going to make any promises. The EEP aren’t exactly my friends at the moment.”


Bill muttered something under his breath, but I didn’t catch it.


“Melbourne Zoo?”


“Nothing to report today.”


“National Zoo and Aquarium?”


“We’re considering retiring our older capuchins to a sanctuary in New South Wales.”


“Would this free you up to breed again?”


“Well, it would, but we were thinking we’d phase out the species. This would open us up to be able to breed species which are more endangered, such as Francois Langur.”


He cleared his throat.


“Perhaps we could invite the people from there to one of our meetings, just to get to know them a little bit better?”


“That would be a great idea,” Christine agreed. “Would you be in a position to organise that?”


“Yes.”


“Fantastic. Feel free to pass on their contact details to me as well, although we’ve probably got them on file.”


“Of course, I can do that.”


“Thank you. Perth Zoo?”


“How is the open range idea coming along?” Reuben quipped.


Bill’s brow furrowed.


“All in good time, my friend.”


“Taronga Zoo?”


“We do in fact have an update in relation to the De Brazza’s Guenon program,” Sam divulged. “There’s a pair in Bristol in the UK and that zoo is conducting a development and phasing De Brazza’s out of their collection. They’ve offered them up to us.”


“Well, that’s a better plan than having them shot,” Bill quipped.


“We’ve just had two recent births in the region. Hopefully those animals will survive to adulthood and, again, hopefully those pairs will breed again. There is a program. We may as well formalise it.”


“I think that we should take the matter to a vote,” Christine proposed.


“Rock, paper, scissors?” Bill quipped.


“No, we’ll vote now,” Christine decided, not particularly amused. “All in favour, please raise your hand on Zoom.”


Thankfully, it was a unanimous vote to establish a problem. I’d thought that there might have been a bit of argument, but evidently Bill was just being cheeky.


“My turn, we’ve given our chimps a small trampoline for enrichment.”


Christine loaded a photograph onto the screen, which was a happy visual to finish off with. After the TAG meeting, I called Sam.


“Hello, Sam Chen speaking,” he answered.


“Hi Sam, it’s Jumilah Fioray.”


“Great to hear from you, Jumilah,” Sam responded. “I’m sorry if you feel like that TAG meeting got a little bit heated.”


“No, it’s fine, it worked out pretty well in the end.”


“Well, we do have big plans for primates, to import and breed De Brazza’s Guenon, to go back into orangutans eventually,” Sam divulged, “but that’s not what I called you about in the first place. I wanted to speak with you about our wildlife course, I’ve heard you’re interested.”


“Yes, I’m very interested,” I confirmed. “My only problem is being here in Tasmania, far away from you.”


“Well, you can certainly study by correspondence. We have lots of online options. Especially these days, all you’d need is somewhere to do your prac. I can email you through the forms to apply if you’d like, you should get in.”


“That would be great, thank you,” I accepted, giddy with glee.


“Of course, will do,” Sam promised. “Sorry, I’ve got to go now, I’m being summoned to our wallaby exhibit, which is at the opposite end of the zoo.”


“At least it’s downhill.”


“That’s something,” Sam agreed. “Talk later, Jumilah.”


“Bye, Sam.”


We ended the call. At least I felt I had a bit of clarity in relation to the wildlife course, even if another set of questions were still thrown up. I breathed out slowly, hope pooling in my gut. Once I’d applied for the wildlife course, hopefully it would only be a matter of time. I found myself thinking about the wallaby import which Bill had mentioned during the bird TAG meeting; I should have asked Sam about it. Nevermind, that could be a conversation for another day. Glancing out the window, I was enchanted by the beautiful day. I left my phone and my laptop behind. With a smile on my face, I slipped out the back door, closing it behind me. I strode out onto our property, bypassing the construction. Over the crest of the hill, the fagus trees were turning golden, marking that the change of season was nigh. I wandered around there for a little while. As much as this landscape would be changed by animal exhibits, I wished for it to remain as authentic as possible, to what it had been for years, and what it has become. Digging my hands into my pockets, my feet crunched over the leaves and the grass, heading back home. I remained unaware of how this story would end. When I returned home, I made sure to grab an umbrella, just in case. I locked up the house behind me, then walked down the front steps to the car, which Mum and Dad had left behind this morning. I arrived to meet Tallulah at Bellerive Beach, once she was finished at work. The river lapped up against the sand, harsh autumnal wind swirling Tallulah’s curly hair.


“Hey.”


“Hi,” Tallulah responded. “Vanessa called before, you know, Jye’s wife.”


“Yeah.”


“She said that she wanted to catch up and she’d meet me down here.”


“Oh, alright.”


I noticed a car pulling up near the playground. Vanessa came down to the beach.


“Hi, Tallulah,” she greeted. “Jumilah, isn’t it?”


“Yeah,” I confirmed.


“Nice to see you again, Jumilah.”


“How have you and Jye been going in the off-season?” Tallulah asked.


“Yeah, we’ve been going well,” Vanessa answered, although she seemed coy. “It won’t be long, of course, until he’s off to Sri Lanka.”


“That’s great. Kyle’s been thinking he might get on the tour, fingers crossed.”


“Tallulah, I’m going to show you something. I’m not sure if you’ve seen it before.”


Vanessa turned around her phone, revealing the screen, with a photo on it.


“Oh, oh my goodness,” Tallulah shrieked.


“I take it that that’s you, and that you haven’t seen that picture before.”


Vanessa kept scrolling – photo after photo. I wouldn’t have recognised them as Tallulah at first, at least not by her face. The dress, though, was one that I knew to be hers, the dress she was taking off. Once her clothes came off, Tallulah turned to face the camera. We could see her face, looking distantly, unaware; we could see her bare breasts.


“These photos were sent to a group chat with all the cricket boys in it. Kyle sent them. Jye told me, he showed me. We want to help you.”


Tallulah’s legs shook.


“I’m so, so sorry.”


“I remember getting changed.” Tallulah shook her head. “I had no idea Kyle was taking photos.”


Vanessa removed her phone from view. We didn’t need to see those photos all over again.

“What did the boys say?”


“I’m not sure.”


Vanessa tucked some strands of honey blonde hair behind her ear. The trajectory of the day, and Tallulah’s life, had pivoted. It had shifted off axis and I didn’t know what to do.


“Jye hadn’t received photos like this before.”


Vanessa cleared her throat.


“What would you like to do?”


“I--.” Tallulah’s voice tremoured like a windswept shower of rain.


I wrapped my arms around her and held her close, so that she couldn’t crumble.


“I’m not sure.”


Without another option, Vanessa drove us back to her house. I helped Tallulah out of the car and down the front path. Two square areas of front lawn were rimmed by rose bushes. Vanessa and Jye’s house was beautiful, a quintessential Sandy Bay home. We entered the house and sat down on a leather lounge, cool through the fabric of my trousers.


“Would you like a beer?”


“Yes, please,” Tallulah accepted.


Vanessa retrieved a six-pack from the fridge. She came back to the lounge and handed beers to Tallulah and I.


“You know that it’s image-based abuse,” Vanessa pointed out. “You’re able to go to the police. They would be able to charge him. Look, there’s no specific image-based abuse law in Tasmania, but it’s still a crime. You don’t have to put up with this. That’s why I told you, because you shouldn’t have to put up with this.”


I sent Mum a text to say that I was with Tallulah, and I didn’t know when I’d be home. That was all that she needed to know, at least for the meantime. Slipping my phone back into my bag, I glanced around. This would have been a wonderful house in which to raise a baby, I figured. Jye and Vanessa would make good parents, caring and kind.


“I think I want to go to the police.”


“Alright.” Vanessa got up off the lounge. “I can drive you.”


Tallulah and I followed out of the house and into the car. We both sat in the backseat during the journey. We walked through the front door of the police station.


“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t even be here.” Tallulah rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet in the doorway. “He didn’t do anything to me. It wasn’t like he raped me.”


“That doesn’t mean you weren’t violated,” Vanessa insisted.


I noticed a young female police officer behind the counter inside. She glanced up and caught my eye, before returning to her work. I gently touched my fingertips to Tallulah’s forearm.


“Tallulah.” I breathed out. “You can go in. We’re with you. You can do this.”


“I can’t.”


Tallulah staggered backwards.


“We don’t want you to be afraid.”


With that, Tallulah moved into the police station. The young female police officer sensed her presence. She bore witness, allowing the silence to give Tallulah the courage to speak.


“I, um, I would like to speak with you about something which has happened.”


Tallulah’s eyes shifted to Vanessa.


“I, um.”


The female police officer remained looking at Tallulah.


“Come through into the room.”


“Can I, um, can I have my friends with me?”


“Of course.”


My heart thumped. The police officer led us through into a room. As we waited, I kept thinking about that night when Tasmania won the cup. I thought that I could faintly hear birdsong, from the other side of the frosted window. Another woman walked into the room.


“My name is Detective Saskia Holman. I’m from the sex crimes unit.”


She spoke with a heavy European accent. Tallulah nodded her head. She finally made eye contact but seemed a little dazed. Detective Holman sat down on the other side of the table.


“I’d like to speak with you about what happened.”


She glanced around the room, at the rest of us. I hoped we wouldn’t get kicked out. Unless, of course, Tallulah wanted us gone. I looked back to the first female police officer, studying the small white letters on the badge pinned to her shirt. She was Senior Constable Jessica McKeown, and I felt a little more assured to know a name. A knock at the door startled me.


“My boyfriend shared pictures of me. I didn’t even realise he was taking them.”


“And how did you become aware that these photographs had been taken?”


“Vanessa told me, she showed me.” Tallulah glanced towards her. “Her husband, Jye, he and Kyle are on the same cricket team.”


Senior Constable McKeown had made her way over to the door to answer it, while Tallulah had been speaking with the detective.


“Kyle is your boyfriend?”


“Yes. Kyle Maher. Yeah, he’s the cricket player.”


Detective Holman didn’t seem bothered.


“And has your boyfriend ever physically assaulted you?”


“No. We’ve never even had sex. I didn’t think he’d seen me naked.”


Tallulah’s head lolled in a circle.


The detective looked at Vanessa.


“Can I please see the photographs?”


“Yeah, of course.” Vanessa handed over her phone. “Those aren’t the messages. My husband sent me screenshots, from the group chat with the other players.”


“Thank you. I’ll need to speak with your husband.”


“Of course, you can.”


The detective tapped through Vanessa’s phone.


“Can I help you with anything else?” Tallulah squeaked out.


“That’s all that I need from you. Senior Constable McKeown will take you through some forms you need to fill out.”


The detective departed the room. Senior Constable McKeown placed down a clipboard in front of Tallulah. She directed her through the form.


“You probably think that I’m stupid. He didn’t even touch me or rape me or something. All he did was take some photos.”