In the morning I had a psychologist appointment via Zoom, so Reuben made sure to head out into the zoo, to give me my privacy. I sat at my laptop and logged into the call, allowing Jenine’s face to fill the screen.
“Hello,” I greeted her. “It’s good to see you, to still be able to see you this way.”
“So, you’re in Melbourne at the moment?”
“Yeah, I’ve been here for a bit over a month. I’m doing work experience in preparation for the zoo opening, and for my captive animal course. I do online classes at night.”
Jenine nodded her head.
“What sort of animals do they have at the zoo?”
“Well, all sorts. I mostly work with primates, because we’ll have primates at the zoo. There’s also lions, tigers, seals, elephants – I’m working with a broad spectrum of animals.”
“Have you been getting enough sleep?”
I shrugged my shoulders.
“Yeah, I mean, I suppose so. How much would you consider enough?”
“Do you wake up feeling refreshed?”
I shrugged my shoulders.
“When I wake up, I have work to do. So, I get up, I have a coffee--.”
“Do you need coffee to feel energised?”
I shrugged my shoulders.
“I’m Italian, it’s not a thing.”
Jenine finally arrived.
“When you sleep, do you sleep with a partner?”
“I’m not sexually active.” Heat crept into my cheeks. “I’m a virgin.”
“That wasn’t what I asked you.”
I sat back in my chair.
“I’m sorry, you’re right.”
I wanted a drink of water, unsure of why I’d made such a personal revelation without clear prompting from my psychologist.
“We’re going to have a nocturnal house for the tarsiers and the lorises, have I mentioned that?”
Jenine nodded, but I wasn’t sure if she was actually answering my question.
“They require more humidity than is typical in Tasmania. That’s why we have to house them inside.”
“Will they have outdoor enclosures as well?”
“No, they won’t.” I started to doubt the reality. “We’ve done what we can to make it as natural as possible.”
“It seems like a lot of work has gone into this.”
Following the session, I strode out of the house with a smile on my face. I headed straight for the peccary exhibit – well, the soon-to-be-former peccary exhibit. A large crate was being moved onto the back of the truck when I arrived. Reuben pointed towards it.
“That’s mum and the youngest two,” he explained.
“Right,” I agreed with a nod of my head, burrowing my hands into my pockets.
With the first crate secured, a second was shifted into the truck. I glanced up into the sky, while the back doors were shut and locked. Ara walked up briefly to speak with the truck driver, from the zoo’s maintenance crew, before the journey got underway. Reuben and I trailed the truck through the zoo grounds, keeping an eye out for any overhanging branches. From the peccaries it could head straight for the Main Drive and down the centre of the zoo. It slowed near the gate, to manoeuver around the corner to the left, turning towards the Keeper Kids building. I grimaced, but the truck halted. Ara and Violet climbed up to open the back doors. The crates were offloaded from the truck. Given that it was only a short trip across the zoo, Melbourne’s peccaries were moved together. They could be let out into their new exhibit at the front of the zoo, together, as well, the area planted out with succulents. Once the peccaries had settled in, the other keepers departed, leaving Reuben and I.
“How was your--?” he spoke up, then stopped himself. “I’m sorry, it’s none of my business.”
“I broke up with my boyfriend, not the other way around,” I reminded Reuben. “I’m not some sort of poor delicate flower.”
“Actually, that wasn’t what I was asking about.”
“So, you were asking about my psych appointment?”
Reuben nodded tentatively.
“Well, that’s definitely none of your business.”
“Look, I think we just talk about the greatest hits – what happened with Kakek, the zoo plans, kind of a bit about the stuff with Patrick and my friends.”
He bobbed his head sympathetically.
“Well, I’d better get back to work,” Reuben announced, consulting his watch. “You’re going to carnies with Monica this afternoon, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” I confirmed with a nod of my head.
“Right, see you after that.”
I farewelled Reuben with a wave, then walked back from the peccary exhibit. Returning to the Main Drive, I tucked my hands into my pockets and looked around. There wasn’t really much for me to do, other than stroll around and look for someone who needed a hand. I ended up at the African savannah, observing the zebras. The four males were all on display, at least some of which would have been born at Werribee. Before long, it was time for the carnivore TAG meeting, the rest of the day slipping away from me. Perhaps having had my psychologist appointment in the morning meant that the hours slipped by more swiftly than they usually would have. I slipped into the meeting room, locating Monica sitting there. She’d logged into the carnies meeting already; however, it hadn’t started yet.
Faces flashed up on the screen as the others logged in, the participants taking themselves off mute and turning their cameras on.
“Welcome to the meeting,” Bill greeted us. “Hunter Clinton will be outlining his institution’s Sumatran Tiger history.”
“Thanks, Bill. Our founders, Tim and Mary, were from Mogo in 2006.” Hunter brought up a photo of him as a toddler, with the young tigers, and I couldn’t help but smile. “We then imported the male, Stephen, from Indonesia in 2008, born to wild-born parents. He was followed by a further male, John, in 2010, also from Indonesia.”
I could see Bill smirking, probably at the names.
“Then, in 2012, we bred for the very first time, with Mary producing five cubs – three males, Ronan, Red, and Lucky, and two females, Grace and Winter. They were fathered by Stephen, our Indonesian import, so they’re relatively genetically valuable animals.”
I could see Hunter growing up, in the next picture with the cubs.
“After that, Stephen was moved to Wellington Zoo, and he’s now been moved to Hamilton Zoo. Our next breeding recommendation came in 2017. Grace was mated with John to produce two cubs, a male named King and a female named Emma.”
I was trying to do the maths, of how many tigers they would have had.
“In 2019, we received word to breed again. This time, the decision was made to breed with Winter, and she produced her first litter, three cubs named Cornelia, Archer and Summer, born in December 2019. The next year, we bred from Grace and John again, and in August 2020, she had two cubs.”
If I wasn’t wrong, that added up the fifteen tigers. Sam’s lips pursed to speak, and Hunter’s eyes bulged.
“Of course, we sent off Ronan to Taronga Zoo, and Red and Lucky to New Zealand.”
Minus three, but twelve tigers at once is still a large number, even if a third of those are young cubs. It wouldn’t have surprised me if Hunter was keen to move some of those along.
“And he was greatly received, thank you.”
Hunter nodded with a smile.
“I’m very aware of the fact that we hold tigers with valuable bloodlines. Now, I feel we need to come up with a plan.”
I wanted to chime in, but didn’t know what to say.
“Another breeding recommendation, of course, I don’t think anyone would argue with that,” Sam assured. “It would be ideal if John could breed with another female, from a different bloodline.”
“We could pair John with Grace, she’s a proven breeder.”
“That’s an excellent idea,” Sam affirmed.
The decision was made.
“And would you have to transfer out for that?” Sam checked.
“Personally, there are zoos awaiting tigers,” Mal pointed out, “so it’s not out of the question.”
“Adelaide Zoo is in need of a female,” Sam mentioned, “so, if you’re agreeable, that would be either Emma or one of the two females from the 2019 litter.”
“Perhaps both could be transferred in case there are compatibility issues?”
“Well, that’s highly unlikely,” Hunter mentioned. “Most tigers know what they’re doing.”
An uncomfortable silence followed, nobody wanting to argue nor affirm. The decision was made to transfer Cornelia to Adelaide Zoo, then Hunter was asked about his future plans for tiger imports.
“I’m not sure if we would import tigers from Indonesia again.”
I took a sip from my bottle of water, then we moved onto the member reports.
“As you’d know, at the moment, we have non-breeding otters. We sent off some otters to New Zealand not so long ago. Now, we just have the two females, Flossie and Harpreet. If possible, we’d love to receive a male for breeding before too long.”
“Has any consideration been given to breeding your cheetahs?” Bill wanted to know.
I thought it a little unusual that the question was coming from him, given that Perth Zoo doesn’t have cheetahs as far as I’m aware.
“Well, we don’t have breeding recommendations.”
It almost seemed like the privileges were being traded.
“Are you asking nicely for one?”
“As you’d know, of course, mate, we have three females – Averley, Brydie and Carolyn – and three unrelated males – Wes, Nial and Kennie.”
“And it would be good for you to breed them.”
“We’re on the same page there, mate,” Hunter assured. “We wouldn’t have imported if we didn’t want to breed.”
“Yet, you’re housing your cheetahs close by to tigers, which isn’t advised.”
“Look, I’ll take that onboard.”
“At the end of the day, it’s not like these aren’t unknown factors.”
I couldn’t help but look at Monica. She was maintaining an excellent poker face, and didn’t seem likely to take us off mute.
“One of our male lions sustained an eye injury. We needed to put him under to examine it and treat it.”
“Unfortunately, one of our lionesses has died.”
“We’ve been trying hydroponic fodder. For our tigers, it’s a form of enrichment, but I’ll bring up in the other TAGs that it’s a good food source for herbivore species.”
“That sounds really interesting,” Monica commented.
“We’ve had sad news. We had to euthanise our cheetahs.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
It wasn’t Christine announcing, but a woman whose Zoom name identified her as Amy Carmichael. I wondered whether she worked in the carnivore department.
“Werribee Open Range Zoo?”
“We have received a new pair of female servals,” Des announced. “They’ve come from Hunter Valley, from the most recent litter born there.”
“And we were sad to see them go, but they’ll have a great life at Werribee.”
“Can I ask, please, what are the servals’ names?” I spoke up.
“Yes, you may, they are named Tessie and Peggie,” Gershon, from Hunter Valley, chimed in to answer my question.
“They’re very cute names,” I commented with a smile.
The TAG meeting came to an end. Monica closed her laptop. I yawned.
“Time for me to head home, I think.”
“Aren’t you already home?”
“Well, yeah, I suppose so, but I’ve still got to walk from here to there.”
I made a walking gesture with my fingers over the back of my other hand, grinning so as to not seem condescending. Nonetheless, Monica gave me a look, which I found disheartening. I waited for what she was about to say next, were she to tell me what was actually sitting on her chest.
“Some people,” Monica was choosing her words carefully, “feel that you’re a bit exclusionary.”
I grimaced, although she seemed just as self-conscious to be saying so. Therefore, I need to get my hands dirty.
“Thank you for letting me know,” I responded.
I tried to keep my expression even.
“You know, that’s probably more on them than on you,” Monica remarked. “If people feel bitter that Reuben seems to think you’re fantastic when he’s not always like that as a boss, then that’s not necessarily your fault, Jumilah.”
“Right,” I replied, mind spinning.
I finally left the offices, returning to Reuben’s cottage as I listened to the animals saying goodnight.
Abbey Sim is a candidate for Honours in Communications at the University of Technology Sydney. She lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. Having started Huldah Media in 2021, Abbey desires to explore themes of hope, love and longing through her storytelling. She is the author of 'Shadow' and 'From the Wild'.