“Do you mind if Tallulah comes over tomorrow night?”
“Yeah, that’s fine,” Mum allowed, as her toast popped out of the toaster. “It will be good to hear what you’re getting up to.”
Tallulah swung by to pick me up on the way to Dodges Ferry, considering that it is actually on her way.
“I’m so excited about this,” she gushed.
As I fastened my seatbelt, Tallulah turned around. It’s not a particularly long drive to Dodges Ferry, only about fifteen minutes. Thankfully the traffic was mostly moving in the other direction, towards Sorell and the city. When we arrived at the vet clinic, Tallulah was able to park out the front. We got out of the car with our bags, locking it behind us, before entering the vet clinic. I didn’t need my FitBit to tell me that my heart was thumping within my chest, nervous at what the day ahead would bring. Our first patient was a chihuahua who’d swallowed a metal skewer. Thomas took him into surgery, although Tallulah and I were assigned to feeding the animals out the back.
“It sucks, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, it does,” I agreed. “Wait, are you talking about what happened or that we’re not in there?”
“I mean what happened, of course.”
“Yeah, it’s terrible.”
Eventually, Thomas emerged from the operating theatre.
“Do you think that he’s going to pull through?”
“I’m not sure, but he’s alive for now. We’ll take good care of him.”
Thomas removed his scrub cap, then we followed him out to the reception area, where he checked the computer.
“We’ve just had a callout. Let’s go.”
Tallulah and I followed Thomas out the front. We both went to get into the back of the van.
“It’s alright,” Thomas assured.
“You know, I don’t mind if one of you is in the front seat.”
Tallulah and I played scissors paper rock. She played paper, I played rock. I laughed to concede defeat, then Tallulah got into the front. Once I was in the back, I fastened my seatbelt. Thomas started driving away from the vet clinic. He mumbled to himself on the way, but I couldn’t quite work out what he was saying. Truth be told, I didn’t really mind. Once we were on the highway, Thomas relaxed into his seat and accelerated. Tallulah looked over her shoulder at me.
“Are you alright?” she checked, and I confirmed that I was just fine.
Within my bag, I felt my phone vibrate once against my leg. Sneakily, I took out my phone. I checked the message from Patrick.
Can I ask you a favour?
Yeah, of course; I promised Patrick.
Could you please take my close shift tomorrow?
I agreed, because I didn’t have a reason not to. Besides, I’ll be finished with Tallulah by then. I dropped my phone back into my bag as we arrived at the property and got out of the van. Tallulah and I followed Thomas over to a paddock, where a chestnut horse stood by the fence.
“Do you know much about walking around horses?” he wanted to know.
“I know that you walk on the near side of the body, level with the shoulder.”
“You’ve been around horses before?”
“I used to live on a farm.”
“Right. Is your family still on the land?”
“We are, but we’ve given away the farm. Actually, we--.”
I was about to tell him about the zoo.
“Droughts are terrible things,” Thomas remarked with a shake of his head.
We entered the paddock with the horse. Thomas led the mare around the paddock. She seemed ginger and a little lame. While I was watching keenly, I knew I was distracted – thinking about how I’d missed the bird TAG meeting, and what the rest of the day would hold, although I chastised myself for being so scatterbrained.
“I don’t think this is helping,” Thomas admitted. “Her body isn’t up to it.”
“There’s one other thing that we could try. We could take him down to the beach. It helps with the joints.”
“Actually, that might work.”
Graeme loaded his horse into the float. He drove, and we followed in the van.
“The water is good for the joints, it takes the pressure off in a way that exercising on land doesn’t,” Thomas explained.
This wasn’t necessarily relevant information for the zoo, but nonetheless good to learn. When we arrived on the beach, Graeme led the horse into the water.
“Here you go, easy buddy.”
I removed my shoes. Leaving them on the sand out of reach of the tide, I followed Thomas. He led the horse around in the water.
“Would you like to have a turn?”
“Alright,” I agreed, even though I felt a little anxious.
Thomas gently handed over the rope to me. I led the horse slowly through the water to exercise her joints, until it was time for all of us to go back home. The mare returned to her owner, Graeme.
“Thank you very much.”
I glanced towards one of the tall trees located beyond the beach, noticing a possum scurrying up it, to take shelter. We got back into the van and I took a moment to check my phone. I wanted to know if there were updates from Patrick in relation to Frank’s trial. He hasn’t been called as a witness, so he’s able to sit in the gallery. There weren’t any further messages since our exchange earlier in the day.
Thinking of you xxx; I sent to him, then put my phone away.
As we drove back, angry grey clouds rolled across the sky.
“How much do you know about orange-bellied parrots?”
“Yeah, I know that they’re critically endangered. Their habitat is the Tasmanian wilderness.”
“Which is exactly what we need to protect and save.”
When we returned to the clinic, I was able to take the time to join in with the primate TAG meeting, as Tallulah had already cleared that with Thomas.
“Firstly, I’d like to start the meeting by congratulating Reuben on his new role as director of Melbourne Zoo.”
A series of cheer and applause reactions went around the Zoom room, including from me.
“Well, thank you, it’s nice to make it official,” Reuben responded. “Of course, this changes things a little bit, but not much. I’m staying on the primate TAG and the ethics committee and I’m committed as ever to Melbourne Zoo.”
“We’re hearing from Jackson as the black-handed spider monkey studbook keeper.”
“Yes, thanks Christine. Can I please share my screen?”
After a moment, Jackson was able to share a presentation to the meeting.
“Black-handed spider monkeys, or Geoffroy’s spider monkeys, are held by nine institutions in Australia, and a further five in New Zealand. Wellington Zoo also holds elderly female hybrids.”
“I note, Jackson, that you no longer hold spider monkeys at Bungarribee. Is there a particular reason for that?”
“We’ve received squirrel monkeys. They’ll be housed with our capybaras instead. That’s meant to be a primate exhibit, we need primates back into that exhibit.”
“Well, that’s good you’ve got the squirrels, then,” Mal chimed in.
Jackson’s presentation finally got back on track, and turned out to be not exactly revelatory.
“I also wanted to mention the Captive Global Action Plan,” Christine addressed. “We’ll need to prepare a report for that.”
“Christine, when’s that due?” Sam wanted to know. “Is it something which we could dedicate time to at the conference at the end of the year?”
“It’s not due until December,” Christine answered, “so December would be cutting it somewhat fine, but if we prepare well prior to the conference, then that would be a valuable use of our time then.”
“Thank you,” Sam responded. “I’m confident that we’ll all have a wonderful time at the conference.”
“We’d better,” Reuben quipped, tone deadpan but tongue in cheek.
“Look, I’ve been reflecting on the conversations we had about baboons about a month back. I think it would be good to explore this further. For one, I would like to fully explore the question regarding baboons in research facilities.”
“Oh, you’re a bleeding heart leftie, Don.”
“A bleeding heart leftie I may be,” Don conceded, “but we’re always talking about needing new blood. This is one way that our programs could receive new genetics without needing to import.”
“What you’re discounting is that the research facilities would want something in return,” Bill mentioned.
“Well, we’ve all got our cross to bear and our skin in the game,” Gerard commented.
“I do think that it’s something we could take a look at,” Christine admitted. “Personally, I see both sides of the issue. Pragmatically, I see why the research labs won’t just hand over their animals. Is there anything else which you’d like to report on this meeting?”
“Yes, we’re expecting that our female siamang, Georgia, will give birth within the next couple of weeks,” Don mentioned, attracting my attention. “This will be a very valuable infant. Both Georgia and the sire, Medan, were wild-born, rescued animals and therefore founders in the populations.”
“We have some very exciting news, I’m sure Jumilah will be pleased to hear this. I know that it’s not to do with this meeting, but Nandi is pregnant.”
Hands slapping onto my mouth, I squealed with excitement. A dog started to bark, and my heart thumped at the thought that I would have startled it.
“It took longer than usual to confirm. The doc we’ve been using, he needed to go back to Australia.”
“Is everything alright?”
“He’s relocating back to Tasmania with his wife and children. You’d have to contact him if you want to work with him, but I get the impression he’s taking leave.”
“Our two Francois Langur brothers went on display. They’re not shy, to be honest I thought they would be.”
“Nothing to report this week.”
“Mogo Wildlife Park?”
“We’ve received two male Emperor Tamarins from Sweden, as well as a Cotton-Top Tamarin from Perth.”
“Good,” Christine praised. “Anything else?”
“We’re also a little bit concerned about our male orang-utan’s eyesight.”
“We’ve engaged a human ophthalmologist from Canberra who will come and have a look at him.”
“Monarto Safari Park?”
“Yes, unfortunately we have some sad news. Our female ruffed lemur died.”
“A bit of a sad week here too, we’ve lost our last two macaques.”
“A bit to report, we’re conducting paternity testing on our chimpanzee infants. We hope that soon we’ll be able to confirm the sires of our three most recent infants.”
“Ah, we’re planning on doing that as well,” Christine chimed in. “We’ll just wait on the next birth.”
“When is Sara due?”
“June, end of June.”
“Did you have anything else to report?”
“We’ve certainly been learning a lot about tarsier husbandry and I’d love to share that with you in future.”
“Sam, with all due respect, I think you’re the only one for whom that information is relevant.”
“Well, I would be interested to learn,” Christine spoke up.
I could feel my heart beating fast.
“Thank you, Christine,” Sam responded. “I’m happy to give a presentation at a future meeting.”
They decided upon a free date in the future, locking it in with no further objections.
“Anything else?” Christine wanted to know.
I glanced towards my watch.
“Merah is due pretty soon, isn’t she?” Gilham wanted to know. “You’re female orang-utan, Don?”
“Yes, she is,” Don confirmed. “We’re anticipating that we’ve got about three more weeks until her baby will be born.”
The TAG meeting came to an end. Next on my agenda was to help out with a surgery on a labradoodle, in order to remove a grass seed from his ear.
“Could you please hand me a pair of pliers?”
I grabbed one and presented them, then pulled them back.
“Oh, sorry, that’s a bent pair.”
“No, that’s exactly what I need.”
I handed over the pliers.
“It fits the shape of the dog’s ear.”
I smiled as Thomas cleaned out the ear. While I wouldn’t have considered that, it made perfect sense. Following the operation, the dog was placed in intensive care to recover. I managed to sneak a moment to check my phone. According to Patrick, the prosecution’s case had commenced, with Sloane’s victim impact statement read to the court, rather than having her testify in person. I knew why, but that didn’t stop me from feeling anxious.
“How’s your afternoon been?” Tallulah wanted to know.
“Alright,” I answered. “The case has started, Frank’s case. Patrick said that the prosecution case has read out Sloane’s statement.”
“That’s everything for today,” Thomas told us, “but come out here, there’s something I want to show you before you go.”
Tallulah and I followed him out the back. I could hear running water.
“We’ve been taking care of a platypus, Paul the platypus,” Thomas explained.
“Tomorrow, he’s going to finally get released back into the wild, and you both can come with us to the release site.”
Being careful for the spurs, he reached into the tank and removed the platypus so that I could take a look.
“I thought that they would be tiny like a pencil case,” I remarked, “but that’s massive.”
“Tasmanian platypus, you see,” Thomas noted. “We breed them larger here than on the mainland.”
“Of course, we do,” I agreed, with a proud grin.
Thomas let Paul back into the tank. I returned home to the delicious scent of Padang soto, which Mum was cooking with Nanek’s recipe.
“Oh my goodness, I need this,” I gushed.
“Did you not have a good day?”
“No, it’s just been a big day.”
“Andrew and Kem are coming over for dinner tonight.”
I approached the fridge.
“Is that alright with you?”
“Of course, it is.”
“Look, I’m a little worried about Lowanna. She sleeps an awful lot and she seems to be a bit more sluggish when she walks.”
I started nibbling on my thumbnail.
“All I want is to take care of her, I don’t want to stuff this up.”
“We’re doing the best that we can do,” Mum assured me. “I think that she seems alright today. We’ve just had a snuggly day.”
“Thank you for looking after her.”
“You’re welcome, it’s my pleasure. There’s no wonder where you get your love of animals from.”
I smiled, then my face fell.
“Frank’s trial started today.” I took a breath. “Sloane’s been called as a witness, but Patrick isn’t, so he’s able to watch it.”
“He’s going to go to prison, isn’t he?” I needed confirmation from my mum. “That’s a good thing, isn’t it?”
Mum handed me a bowl of Padang soto.
“I know that will be terrible for his kids, but he took advantage of Sloane,” she reminded me.
“Let’s sit down and eat.”
We did just that, at the kitchen table, albeit with the television on and the evening news turned down low.
“Do you know what Sloane is going to do when the baby’s born?” Mum wanted to know.
I shook my head.
“The outcome of the trial is probably going to have an impact on that. I think giving her up to Mary and Frank was her way of giving her a family and keeping her at the same time, I don’t really know.”
Speculation wasn’t particularly helpful. My thoughts about how this would end wouldn’t matter one bit, anyway. Once we were finished eating dinner, Mum and I both stood up.
“It’s alright, I can clean up,” she offered.
After dinner, I checked my emails. I smiled at the arrival of the May ZAA newsletter, one of the perks promised to me as an Individual Subscriber. Opening up the attachment, I sat down on the lounge to read, the main article being about plans to bring southern white rhinos to Australia’s breeding program, from Africa.
“What do you think about rhinos?”
“I don’t know much about them.”
“What would you think about having rhinos here, one day?”
“Well, I suppose bull and cow rhinos aren’t too much different to cattle.”
I lay back against the lounge cushion. My phone stayed within my hand, so I sent Patrick a quick text message, to let him know that I was thinking of him.
“Are you feeling alright, Mum?”
“Yes, sweetheart,” she assured me with a smile. “Never better, I promise you.”
“Alright, I’m going to bed,” I announced, getting up from the lounge.
“Sweet dreams,” Mum wished me, then I exited the room, in pursuit of my bedroom.
I wouldn’t have been long after I got into bed and my head hit the pillow that I fell asleep, exhausted from the day.
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.