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Contentment

At Healesville, the accident at Perth Zoo was a key topic of conversation. We stood around in the breakroom, feeling kind of glum about what had transpired. I’d made myself a cup of coffee and sipped it slowly so that it could last as long as possible, and the caffeine wouldn’t go to my head and leave me buzzed for the rest of the day.


“It was dreadful what happened, so unlucky.”


“Well, it was lucky it didn’t kill her,” Derek pointed out.


“Yes,” I agreed, albeit a little taken aback. “It was.”


I stood up and skulled the last, lukewarm dregs of my coffee.


“Alright, I’m off.”


“See you later,” Derek farewelled.


I shifted from the staff quarters to the vet hospital. In one of the storerooms, I encountered Nikki.


“Today, we’re doing stock-take.”


She rubbed her hands together with glee. Nikki opened the cupboard containing the bandage supply. Derek ducked into the doorway.


“We’ve just had an owl brought in, hit by a car.”


“Will you be right to take it?”


“Yeah, sure.”


Derek departed. Nikki and I spent the day checking through the supplies and medication kept at the wildlife hospital at Healesville Sanctuary.


“You know, this reminds me of being at work.”


Nikki looked at me, intrigued.


“I’ve only ever worked at Woolworths,” I explained. “Well, if you don’t count this--.”


“I would count this,” Nikki decided. “Have you spoken to Margie yet about getting paid?”


“No.”


“You should.”


“Thanks.”


I resolved that I would take the leap, as our chatter continued.


“Have you ever seen elephants in the wild?”


“Personally, I haven’t,” I answered. “I’ve seen the elephants at Melbourne, naturally, but they’re not Sumatran Elephants. My parents and my grandparents would have, though.”


I smiled.


“My grandmother sees wild tigers, sometimes.”


“That’s incredible.”


“Yeah.”


I finished slotting boxes back into the cupboard.


“I’m just going to go to the bathroom, if that’s alright.”


“Yeah, sure, of course.”


I scurried towards the bathroom and ducked into a stall. On the way back, Margie passed in the other direction. We greeted each other.


“How are you going?”


“Yeah, great.”


“How are your family going with the zoo?”


“Good, really good,” I confirmed. “I can show you some photos that Mum sent me, if you’d like.”


“That would be great.”


I retrieved my phone from my pocket. Opening up my camera roll, I flicked through the photos, so that Margie could see the progress on the construction.


“We’re still planning on opening in the summer holidays.”


Margie only grinned, concerning me that she was skeptical. I let out a sigh.


“It’s a bit hard for me to know, though. I’ll be back there about the middle of October. Mum and Dad have been wonderful, they’ve done most of the building themselves.”


Margie nodded her head, appearing impressed.


“That’s wonderful.” She glanced down. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’ve got to go now, I have a meeting about mountain pygmy possums. We check in from time to time about the reintroduction program.”


“Right.”


“I’ll see you later this afternoon.”


Margie scampered away. I consulted my watch as a habit, not that the time was relevant, and returned to Nikki.


“What’s the plan for this afternoon?”


“I’m going over to the koala complex to check on Allegra’s joey.”


“Is anything wrong?” I asked, heart beating faster.


“No, not as far as I’m aware. It’s just routine.”


I realised that I’d braced myself for emotional impact, expecting the worse. Hoping it was a one-off, I followed Nikki to the koala breeding complex. From within the public areas, I listened to the laughter of little kids. A bird stalked by, which – for a moment – I thought was a kiwi.


“Oh, that would be lovely,” Nikki remarked, “but that, is an ordinarily old peahen.”


We reached the pen where Allegra was housed.


“It’s the North Island Brown Kiwi which the zoos mostly hold. Captive kiwis are ambassador birds, by and large. Most of the conservation work takes place in the field with wild birds.”


Nikki opened the gate, its clasp not unlike that on a pool fence. The joey had left the pouch, at least temporarily.


“This little one, she keeps her father’s legacy alive. We’re so lucky to have her.”


Luck was one thing, but the pressure was crippling. At least the koala joey had no idea of all which was riding on her, while she napped on her mother’s back, as Allegra munched on eucalypt leaves. Despite the crushing feeling in my chest, I didn’t communicate this to Nikki. She performed a brief checkup, then we moved onto the next stall.


“And this one is pretty special too, because we have twins.”


Nikki checked in the pouch, showing me both jellybean-like joeys.


“Marvellous.”


“True.”


Nikki allowed Silver, the mother koala, to go back to sleep.


“There’s not much we can do at this stage. Ensuring that the mother had appropriate food, water and rest--.”


We exited the stall.


“Just like in humans, I guess.”


“And, humans also have twins,” I pointed out, “and triplets, and quadruplets. What’s the upper limit?”


“I’m not sure, really. Of course, I’ve heard of Octomom.”


Nikki glanced sideways at me. I nodded, confirming that I understood the reference.


“Right. I think the upper limit, usually, that’s naturally conceived are triplets. You can even have identical triplets.”


We started returning from the breeding complex.


“It’s unusual in humans, but it does happen. I think Josh has seen it once in his work.”


“It’s not something which comes up in my work at Woolworths.”


“Yeah, fair enough,” Nikki agreed with a laugh.


“Although people do tell you the randomest things while you’re serving them, though.”


“I don’t doubt it.”


Out in the main grounds of the sanctuary, Nikki assured me that the rest of her day was not planned to be very exciting. I told her that I would be the judge of that, prompting a laugh, but I didn’t mind having free reign to stretch my legs.


“I suppose that you do see families with multiples from time to time. They always have big grocery loads.”


Did I miss home? Yes. Work? Not so much. I knew that I was running. Bass Strait wasn’t enough to separate me from reality. On the way back, I decided to take the long way, to check in with the finches. As I listened to their beautiful song, I knew that the sounds were only coming from the males. A part of me wondered what the females would sound like, if they could sing. Did it bother them that they had been silenced by the constraints of nature? Maybe feminist sentiments had no place in the animal kingdom. No matter the answer to these philosophical questions, I beamed at the sight of the vivid colours on the chests of the warbling finches – animals of a species which would, all going to plan, soon call our home their home as well, to supplement the Indonesian collection. Kakek would have wanted this for me, to learn, to be trained, and to work with animals. Perhaps that was why he considered Mum a disappointment, that she settled down. It nagged at me, though, that it was merely that she left him. I didn’t like to think of my grandfather in that way, and I was appropriately distracted by a man stepping into my field of view.


“Hello, do you work here?” he enquired.


“I’m here on work experience.”


“Ah, right.”


I took a step forward.


“Do you have any questions? I might be able to help.”


“I wanted to ask you about your work experience, actually. How did you score that gig?”


“Well, I’m from Tasmania, and--.”


His eyebrows rose. I didn’t know whether I wanted to go into the full story.


“Oh, I’ve been to Tasmania Zoo. I didn’t think it was that good, I thought the enclosures and what not were a bit backward.”


I furrowed my brow.


“That’s not really fair. I think it’s a stereotype. If you visited again, I think you’d find a lot has changed.”


He didn’t really have an answer for that, and I sensed we were both keen to exit the conversation promptly.


“Anyway, enjoy the rest of your day here,” I wished him, to be polite.


Returning to the staffroom, I swigged some water, then slotted the bottle back into my bag. My face felt a little cold. I glanced towards the clock, the day getting away from me. Almost four o’clock, I ducked into the bathrooms. It seemed strange to think of it as a rest, but once I’d taken a deep breath, I flushed, exited, and washed my hands. I walked into the meeting room, where Margie had already logged on for the carnivore TAG meeting.


“Hello,” she greeted me. “How has your day been?”


“Yeah, alright, thanks.”


The meeting soon got underway.


“We’ll be hearing first from Margie,” Bill introduced. “There’s been quite a bit happening with the importation from New Guinea, I believe.”


Margie took us off mute.


“Yes, it’s been a big week,” she confirmed. “The animals have all reached their new homes.”


“I just wanted to say,” I spoke up, “this process has been brilliantly managed. There were keepers from all over Australia at Melbourne Zoo earlier in the week, and that was really special.”


“Thank you, Margie and Jumilah. Let’s move onto the member reports.”


We all nodded.


“Adelaide?”


“Yesterday, we received two pairs of clouded leopards. They’ll spend two weeks in quarantine.”


“Auckland?”


“A meerkat birth for us, we’ve had three pups born to our dominant female, Zuri, yesterday.”


“Beerwah?”


“We’ve had a big week, a busy week. I can report that the introductions between John and Grace have resulted in mating.”


The grin couldn’t be wiped off Hunter’s face.


“Hopefully she’ll be pregnant, mate.”


“Bungarribee?”


“We’ve received porcupines, which is the first time we’ve housed the species. They’ll be housed with our meerkats, in the larger exhibit near the cafe.”


 

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'.


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