Before the dholes were let out into their exhibit for the morning, I strode out amidst the grass. I scattered their food for enrichment, so that they would have to search. Once it had been dispersed, I removed myself from the habitat, locking it behind me. With Dad standing behind me, I pulled the rope to lift the slide which had closed off the dholes in their night dens. Gamba, Ajag and Luca sauntered out. They checked around their exhibit to find their food. I, meanwhile, consulted my watch, mindful of the time.
“Time to go, hey?”
I drove out to the airport in our newly-purchased truck. Our four female Tasmanian Devils would be arriving from the mainland. I felt a little anxious to be driving the truck. Whilst I possessed a licence for it, I still needed to fix a red P-plate to the front, which made me feel like a target and a figure of fun. Nonetheless, we arrived at the airport and parked on the tarmac. Thankfully, the flight from Melbourne had just arrived, with our four female devils onboard within the cargo hold. Margie strode down from the plane. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail. We had not seen each other in person since the ZAA conference a few weeks back. Margie smiled as she spotted me and approached me.
“Margie, it’s so good to see you again.”
We hugged briefly. Upon our arrival back at the zoo, the Tasmanian devils were offloaded into their exhibit, which they took to readily. We’d left meat out for the four females. Satisfied that they were settled in, Margie and I headed back to the house. I thought about Cathy’s Acknowledgement of Country from the meeting the day before. Perhaps we could acknowledge the traditional custodians within the zoo grounds, with some sort of plaque. I feared that would seem tokenistic, and not actually achieve anything. With the topic on my mind still, I busied myself preparing coffee.
“You have been assigned a male, Romeo from Monarto Safari Park,” Margie noted as I handed her a drink. “You’ll have to liaise with Blessing to organise the transfer in the new year.”
She sipped her coffee. I nodded.
“Thanks for this.”
“How have you been, Jumilah?”
“Yeah, good, thanks,” I answered with a grin.
I shook my head, then sipped my coffee.
“It’s so different to what life was beforehand, but I suppose things had already changed. This has been a good change.”
“That’s really good.”
“How is being a grandmother?”
A glow crept into Margie’s cheeks.
“It’s so lovely. We’re really blessed.”
She showed me a photo of the baby on her phone.
I wanted to say that she looked like Margie, although I didn’t know whether that would make me seem ignorant.
“I would love to build up the Australian animal collection, although, at the same time, there are plenty of places which cater for that. Species from outside Australia, that’s what southern Tasmania is really lacking.”
“Have you spoken with Steve Barnett at all?”
“Yes, he reached out to me which was really nice.”
“It’s all fun and gates until one of you gets elephants and then it’s all on for young and old.”
I pulled a face, while Margie sipped her coffee.
“It’s just an expression.”
She finished off her drink.
“There was at least one elephant at the Beaumaris Zoo,” I mentioned. “The gates are still there.”
“I wish I had time to go and see them.”
“Yeah, that would be nice. The gates are quite ornate, but when you look at the few enclosures, you can tell that things are much better these days.”
I could hear the siamangs calling.
“Here, I think that we’ve made a good start.”
“And indeed, you have.”
Margie checked her watch.
“Unfortunately, I should be off to catch my flight.”
“Thank you so much for coming today.”
“You’re welcome, it was good to see you.”
Margie departed for the airport, and there was a rare moment of quiet. I glanced towards my watch, knowing the TAG meeting was about to start, when my phone beeped.
So, have you given any more thought to importing elephants?
I’d see him in a moment, in the meeting – not that we’d have the chance to discuss it. I opened up my laptop and logged into the meeting. Most of the usual suspects were in attendance, for what could possibly be the final gathering of the year. We commenced with an acknowledgement of country.
“Margie is an apology for this afternoon’s meeting,” Jimmy mentioned. “She is currently flying back to Victoria after a transfer to Acarda Zoo, I believe.”
“Yeah, sorry about that,” I chimed in. “Thankfully, the devils have settled in.”
“That’s good. I do have a submission from Margie. She is requesting that we action the reestablishment of the Papua New Guinea TAG.”
The decision was made via a unanimous vote.
“Now, we’ve got to decide who will be involve within running the group,” Jimmy mentioned.
“I definitely think that we should be including places in Papua New Guinea more, if they would like to be involved, of course,” I stated. “From a TAG perspective, I believe that the Rainforest Habitat holds tree kangaroo, and in-situ breeding programs are, in my opinion, a very important part of the work we should be doing, as well as breeding in captivity in Australia and New Zealand, too.”
“Yes, I agree, Jumilah.”
Jimmy offered to send the email. I rubbed my eyes. I’ve never worn glasses, but I don’t think spending so much time staring at a screen is helpful for anyone. I don’t know how the New Zealanders get on, being a further two hours ahead.
“Let’s move onto the member reports,” Jimmy urged. “I think, this week, we should start with Acarda Zoo.”
“Yeah, of course. Our three dholes arrived from Taronga just over a week ago.”
“There is a viable breeding pair amongst them, isn’t there?” Monica checked.
“Yes. If we’ve got time, I do have a question. I would love to breed from them, but as far as I’m aware, Sumatran subspecies Dholes are in limited numbers in captivity.”
“There aren’t any in Europe,” Gerard pointed out.
“Sam, which species did you used to hold?”
“The subspecies we previously held, in the 2000s, was quite rare. There is progeny from that group still at Singapore Zoo.”
“How about before then?” Reuben wanted to know.
Sam rolled his lips.
“Look, I would have to search through the records. That is a long time ago now, I will admit.”
Monica sat forward in her seat.
“It’s been a few years now since sun bears have been held at Adelaide Zoo,” she mentioned. “We’re investigating the possibility of holding the species again.”
“Would you hold them in the old exhibit?”
“Yes, it’s still there.”
“We have a breeding recommendation for our newly imported Sumatran Tiger pair. Hopefully we’ll see cubs next year.”
“That would be marvellous,” Sam affirmed.
“I did want to talk about our cheetahs and potential breeding plans.”
I’d been under the impression they wouldn’t be breeding. It’s not something I hold against him.
“Would you consider holding lions in the near future?”
“I mean, that sounds like a dream, although--.”
“You’d like to get your cheetahs onto exhibit first?”
Hunter seemed to wince, although mostly tried well to hide it.
“Took the words right out of my mouth.” Hunter cleared his throat. “We have an area which could be earmarked for a big cat exhibit. Putting the cheetahs there, with off-exhibit housing behind for breeding, would allow us to be in the best position to breed, if we received a breeding recommendation.”
“Well, you’re hear no arguments from me,” Des assured.
“Alright, we’ll do our best,” Hunter agreed. “Hopefully by the time that we’re all sitting here this time next year, we’ll be able to say that our cheetahs are on display.”
“Fantastic,” Jimmy replied. “Bungarribee?”
“I’ve heard we’re next cab off the rank for a Sumatran Tiger breeding pair.”
Peter usually wasn’t that forward.
“Right,” Monica replied.
Nobody seemed to want to confirm nor deny.
“We have a new home for our female.”
“Yes,” Hunter confirmed. “We have offered that we would take her on.”
“I’m not going to argue if that’s the arrangement you’ve reached.”
I wondered whether either of us was going to mention our conversations.
“At the moment, the program has been run with something of a boom or bust mentality,” Reuben levelled. “Combined with a number of failed pairings in recent years, we do need to breed again, but in a measured fashion.”
“Yes, I would agree,” Sam confirmed.
“I was under the impression that we were going to receive a breeding recommendation,” Dawson spoke up.
“The events at Dreamworld will change things,” Monica assured.
“It’s still not a free-for-all, though,” Reuben pointed out.
Another person had come to the meeting on behalf of Hamilton Zoo, in place of Tessa.
“Thankfully, our male tiger has settled in. He seems like a very placid cat. Hopefully introductions to our female will go smoothly and there will be cubs here once again some time next year.”
“Just to confirm, Hamilton Zoo does have a breeding recommendation.”
“Yes, that’s correct.” The man with a Bieber fringe nodded. “It sort of comes with the package of receiving a genetically valuable animal.”
“Alright, Reuben, your turn.”
“Clouded leopards and fishing cats are intended to be new species for Melbourne Zoo next year,” Reuben outlined. “Well, returning species to the zoo, I suppose. Both of those species have been housed before.”
“Where are you planning on housing them?”
“The fishing cats will be in our former otter exhibit. In terms of the clouded leopards, their acquisition might be pushed out to 2024, depending on the dispersion of cubs from Adelaide.”
This surprised me a little bit. I’d thought the fishing cats would go into the rice paddy aviary. That would allow clouded leopards in the otter exhibit. Perhaps plans had changed, and the species had been switched around.
“And are otters remaining part of your collection?” Jimmy wanted to know.
“Yes. We’ll be moving them in the new year to the lake opposite the orangutan sanctuary. This will be a very spacious exhibit, and will also be mixed species with our orangutan and siamang groups.”
“That sounds great, mate.”
“Mal, do you have anything to add?”
“No, not really.”
“What about the tigers you’re sitting on?”
“Well, you tell me,” Mal replied. “We have the holding space for two animals and we hold two brothers at the moment. We would need to transfer one out in order to breed.”
“It would be good to all be on the same page with this.”
“I’m sure if you did import, you would receive a breeding recommendation.”
“I do appreciate you saying that, but it’s not necessarily that simple,” Mal qualified. “There’s significant expense involved.”
“We’re not in the business of subsidising these things.”
“I understand that.” Mal sounded defensive. “Of course, I wasn’t asking for a handout.”
He crossed his arms, then leaned back in his chair.
“Of course not.”
Reuben readjusted his posture within his chair. On that somewhat awkward note, the TAG meeting came to an end. Hunter’s message remained on my phone like a grenade. I tried not to think about elephants. Of course, when you don’t want to think of the elephant, you think of the elephant. Sighing, the way that I could fix that was to head outside and feed the animals for the evening, which I would need to do anyway. Faintly, I could hear the evening news from the other room. When I arrived outside the macaque exhibit, Keenan seemed to be mating Aria. Clearly his contraceptive implant hadn’t slowed him down. I called the troop in with food, then performed Deirdre’s teeth check.
Deirdre parted her mouth, presenting her teeth on the other side of the mesh.
I provided her with a treat. Thankfully, there was nothing which caused me alarm with Deirdre’s dentition. I’m still learning, but Nanek is just a phone call away whenever I have any questions about the animals. I departed the back-of-house area at the macaque exhibit and shifted across the corridor. While the tarsiers didn’t need to be put away for the night, they did need to be supplied with their evening meal. I headed from the end of the nocturnal house across to the aviaries. The finches tweeted away, although I couldn’t see them – they’d already put themselves away for the night. I filled up the water, then pulled the rope to close the door. At the moment, we only hold mammals and birds, but I would be interested in expansion. At a number of zoos, the keepers go into the exhibits with some reptiles, like Komodo Dragons. I’m not sure I would be keen on that level of close contact. I felt like I was in a daze as I greeted Mum with a smile, on my way down the slope. Blood smells lured the dholes into their dens. Tonight, they were getting lucky, with a carcass feed which they quickly tucked into. I noticed that Luca seemed to be carrying some extra weight. It crossed my mind that she could have been pregnant, but I didn’t want to say anything about it. A compromise was to simply make a note on the whiteboard of merely what I had seen. I slotted the cap back onto the marker, then departed the back-of-house area. Breeding dholes would be a significant achievement, although it would present us with a dilemma. What would happen to the pups? Would they be returned to Sumatra, the homeland of their parents.
This I pondered on my way over to the siamangs. Gripping onto her mother’s chest, I noticed that Jelita was feeding, and seemed a little bit sooky. Georgia, on the other hand, kept grasping for the food which I was offering and shovelling it into her mouth, barely leaving anything for Medan, who rocked back and forth as he hung from one of the ropes from his good arm, the one which wasn’t fractured leading to him coming into captivity. I walked back to the house with a smile on my lips. Sunset on my back and siamangs calling, I passed through the gate, which shut behind me with a click. I could smell the dinner Mum was cooking.
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.