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Bones

The midday sun afforded slight warmth over Acarda Zoo. Finches faintly chatted within a mesh aviary as I swapped dung’s aroma for green tea. Perched on the back veranda where I’d taken my first steps eighteen or so years prior, I peered over the fence – constructed less than a year ago – at the exterior of the nocturnal house. Jasmine wove over the brick, its sweet scent transporting me to my grandparents’ home in Sumatra, amid my everyday zoo surroundings in the rolling hills on Hobart’s outskirts.


‘Jumilah, your phone’s ringing.’


I glanced over my shoulder as Mum, dressed in her green zoo-branded polo shirt, slipped out through the screen door.


‘It’s Sam Chen.’


‘He’s keen, I’ll see him in the TAG meeting in just a sec,’ I murmured as I accepted the phone in my free hand. ‘Thanks.’


I answered the call with fondness for my older colleague.

‘How’s Taronga?’


‘Miserable. As soon as you can’t see the city, the rain and the wind blows over the Harbour like it’s straight from the Antarctic.’


‘And people reckon Tassie’s got the rubbish weather.’


I carefully set down my mug on the deck, describing the blissful scene before me.


‘Lovely. Listen, I have a proposal for you, before TAG. Late last week, I received a phone call from a man named Damian Sharma. Turns out his elderly grandmother has recently inherited a property from her uncle. When he checked it out, he found backyard cages holding primates – two squirrel monkeys and two Cotton-Tops.’


I gaped.


‘You know what that means.’


They must have kept breeding, following the ban.


‘And nobody reported the monkeys living over their back fence for thirty years.’


‘Apparently some people stop being dobbers.

‘Are the animals in good condition?’


‘Yes, they have been well-cared for, at least as far as I can tell. The male squirrel monkey doesn’t have a tail. As far as I’m aware, this was a birth defect--.’


‘From inbreeding?’


‘Well, I gather a fair amount has taken place.’


‘So, you’ve visited them personally?’


‘Yes, I have. Last Friday I attended the property and met Damian myself.’


‘Right.’


‘We’re talking about this in TAG, I’m presuming. Is the TAG rehousing them?’


I heard my heartbeat like a dripping tap, anxious this saga would end in euthanasia.


‘Yes. I would like to propose they’re sent to Acarda Zoo.’


The zoo’s soundtrack – gibbons calling from their islands, children’s footsteps joyfully racing beyond their parents – sharpened in contrast to Sam’s voice in my ear.


‘But I wanted to run that by you first, not catch you by surprise in the meeting. These are both programs you’re top of the list for joining.’


‘Oh, of course, that would be great,’ I accepted, before I’d fully thought through the benefits and detriments.


I could have played hardball but knew that the offer of older, inbred animals was unlikely to be superseded by breeders – and my soft spot for creatures with nowhere else to go was borne out in our care for other primates with checkered pasts. Once we ended the call, I skulled the last dregs of coffee – lukewarm and bitter, the caffeine accelerating my heartrate as I returned inside and set up at my desk. Just after 1:30pm, I logged onto Zoom. My colleagues from across Australia and New Zealand appeared, fellow members of the taxon advisory group for primates. The chair, Christine from Wellington Zoo, moved through the usual items to commence the meeting – accepting minutes, then the member reports and updates from species coordinators for the managed breeding programs. Primates are relatively easy to import into both Australia and New Zealand, making it not uncommon that baboons, chimpanzees or spider monkeys would arrive from zoos across Europe, North America and Asia, to add their genetics to the populations in Oceania.


‘Item three, a report from Sam Chen about privately-held primates in New South Wales.’


As my heart bobbed in my chest like a buoy on the Derwent, Sam outlined to the meeting what he had already told me.


‘They should be taken into a zoo,’ Hunter Clinton decreed. ‘They’ll have proper care with one of us for the rest of their lives. They deserve that.’


‘I would propose that the pairs are transferred to the next institution on the waiting list for each program,’ Sam urged. ‘In both cases, that’s Acarda Zoo.’


‘Jumilah, would you accept that?’


‘Yes, if the TAG agrees. We’ve only been going for a short time, but we’re ready.’


‘Well, that would be my decision,’ Christine noted. ‘It would be wonderful to build the collection in Tasmania.’


The motion was unanimously approved. Beaming, I sat forward in my seat, chosen.


‘Jumilah, we’ll be in contact to make arrangements,’ Sam noted and I nodded.


 

Abbey Sim is a candidate for Honours in Communications (Creative Writing) at the University of Technology Sydney. She lives on Dharug Land. Abbey's writing has featured in Wonder: Journeys in Nature with God, published by Bluegum Publishing in 2023. She founded Huldah Media in 2021.


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