I was awoken early this morning by my alarm, getting out of bed and dressing myself in my uniform. After preparing coffees for the three of us, I moved out into the zoo. I would be responsible for the side of the nocturnal house closest to our house, whereas Mum and Dad would feed the dholes and Tasmanian Devils. I thought about Alex and Ella, who would be celebrating their wedding. While it would have been lovely to be there, there was plenty for me to enjoy at the zoo instead. We opened the zoo at 9am, letting through a family whose grandmother rode a mobility scooter.
“Welcome to Acarda Zoo. Thank you very much for coming.”
They moved through into the grounds. I listened out for the sounds of the zoo, the chatter of visitors unfamiliar yet welcome. After my initial two-hour shift, Mum arrived to relieve me at the entrance kiosk. I headed into the nocturnal house, so that I could give a keeper talk inside the slow loris exhibit. Fitting myself with a microphone, I crept in through the back door.
“Alright, let’s go,” I murmured.
My mind turned to Ella, wondering if she was wearing her wedding dress yet. By the end of the day, hopefully they would be married.
“Welcome to Acarda Zoo, we’re pretty pleased to have you here.”
A small crowd gathered, with some people seated on the picnic-style bench opposite.
“Today, we’ll be feeding a slow loris named Djuni.”
As if on cue, she leapt onto the platform near my arm.
I commenced the feed, offering her small treats so that she would remain up close for the visitors to take a look at. More people gathered in the space.
“These lorises were originally from Sumatra, Indonesia.”
“And were they rescued, when they were taken into human care?”
“Yeah, they weren’t able to be released into the wild.” I retrieved some more food. “That’s part of the story of why they’re here.”
“My grandparents, they are from Sumatra--.”
“They’re from Sumatra, are they? Are you from Sumatra?”
“I was born in Tasmania, my mother was born in Sumatra.”
My heart beat faster, as I didn’t want to be having this conversation. I knew the slippery slope which could easily lie before me, and it wasn’t a path I ever wanted to go down.
“You don’t have elephants here, do you?” another of the visitors wanted to know.
“Yeah, we don’t have elephants here at the moment.”
I nodded, as he posed the further question of whether we’d acquite them.
“It might be something that we consider in the future, but at the moment, we’re--.”
I felt the soft brush of Djuni’s fur against my forearm.
“We’ve got the tarsiers, the lorises and the devils in this building.”
“That’s great,” the visitor, a man probably in his forties, responded. “Have you got a male and a female of these lorises?”
“Yes, we do,” I confirmed. “We would like to breed these animals.”
“And what are the future plans, I guess, for other animals to be brought into the zoo?” a man with a British accent wanted to know.
“We would love to have orangutans.”
I felt like the presentation had become a little derailed. Djuni climbed up onto the rim of the food bowl, also accelerating the process.
“Well, you have a nice little zoo here.”
“We hope that you enjoy your day.”
As they finally wandered off, I switched off my microphone and removed it, while I left the last dregs of food for Djuni to polish off. I exited through the back door. As I moved through the back-of-house area, the lights flickered. I felt a jolt within my chest and I scampered home.
“The lights were flickering in the nocturnal house.”
“Yes, I know,” Mum affirmed. “There’s something not right with the power supply.”
“Well, that’s something we do need to sort out.”
“Your father and your grandmother are gathering the supplies.”
I found myself pacing around the kitchen. Accidentally I hit my leg on the side of the kitchen island. I paused, gripping the bench.
“The power needs to be fixed, because of the humidity.”
“Yes, I know that, sayang.”
Mum kissed me on the forehead to calm me down, then promised me that we would fix it. She and Nanek headed outside to the fuse box. I followed them back into the heat. Nanek flicked the switch. Thankfully, Dad offered a thumbs-up from the nocturnal house. With gratitude, I crossed myself. I thanked Nanek, rushing into her arms for a hug. Crisis averted, I set off across the zoo. When I almost reached the siamang island, my phone rang.
“Hello, Jumilah Fioray speaking,” I answered, a little hesitant about the unknown number.
“Hi, Jumilah, you’re from Acarda Zoo, is that correct?”
“Yes,” I confirmed, albeit a little reluctantly, as I watched the siamangs swing around. “How can I help you?”
“Listen, we’re down at Seven Mile Beach and there’s a pelican here looking a little crook.”
“Look, I appreciate you thinking of us. I’d suggest that you call Thomas Perry at Dodges Ferry Vet.”
I provided the phone number.
“Hopefully he’ll be able to help you out.”
“Yes, thank you.”
We ended the call. Once I knew that I couldn’t be heard, I laughed, dispelling the tension in my chest. I called David, just to check in.
“I’ve just received a phone call from someone looking for somebody to rescue a pelican.”
“I gave them the phone number of the local vet. As much as I’d love to head down there, we don’t have the facilities or the expertise or the time--.”
“You made the right call. Hopefully the big fella will be alright.”
I breathed out. While I knew I didn’t need David to affirm my decision any more than anyone else, his support was appreciated.
“How has your day been?”
“Good, thank you,” I replied. “We’ve been relatively busy.”
“That’s great,” David responded. “You know, I have just submitted to the ungulate TAG our plans to be the first holders of zebras in Tasmania.”
“I’m sure that Steve would love that.”
“Well, it’s not like I don’t want to share. We could do a three-for-one import.”
“Thank you for thinking of me.”
“So, you are thinking of importing the zebras?”
“Yes, if we can, absolutely, with the intention of breeding purebreds.”
“Mate, that’s wonderful.”
“Well, that’s the plan, but if it doesn’t work out, perhaps Raffa could spare us some,” David qualified.
“You know, I’m planning on being back on the mainland in early January. I’m visiting Moonlit Sanctuary, then we’ll bring back orange-bellied parrots for wild release.”
“Any other plans for your neck of the woods in 2023?” I queried.
“I’ve been thinking about what your boyfriend’s father said about having gorillas at the zoo, and I’m keen,” David divulged. “Gorillas are harder to acquire than chimps, but they’re a purebred, endangered species.”
“And would you import them too?”
“Yes, we would like to import,” David confirmed, “if funds allow. It’s not really a matter of intention, though. There would probably only just be enough animals to go around as it is. Actually, I was thinking of ringing Reuben about that, just when you phoned.”
“Oh, Reuben’s not working today. There’s a wedding, Ella Okine and Alex Mooney are getting married.”
“Oh, that’s lovely. I’m glad that they got their act together.”
“Yeah, it’s really nice.”
I found a shady spot to sit down.
“Do you know about what’s happening at the sanctuary in Townsville?”
“To be perfectly honest, I’ve never even heard of the place.”
“They’ve just joined the malleefowl program. They house them with their zebra finches. I’ll send you a photo.”
I glanced towards our own aviary.
“Yeah, thank you, that would be great.”
We finished on the phone and David texted me the picture. The finches seemed absolutely tiny, and I doubted whether they were the same size as ours. I glanced towards my watch as the digital screen struck two, when the ceremony would be commencing. It also marked half an hour before I would be heading out to the macaque exhibit for a scatter feed, a part of their everyday life and mine as well. Sometimes my life is difficult to fathom – it feels unreal and like it’s happening to someone else. Half an hour later, I completed the scatter feed, to a smaller crowd than I would have been expecting. Discomfort pooled within my belly. I went for a little bit of a wander, pondering the future expansion of the zoo beyond the aviaries. We would have plenty of space on that side with flatter land, where the main paddocks had been. The border of the road remained a comfortable distance away. Hopefully once the trees grew, there would be more of the atmosphere of the rainforest. I walked back towards the house. If Hunter was free for a quick chat, we would be able to touch base about fish species, and then I might be able to get onto a breeder. Heading inside, I received a text message with a photo attached, from Ella. At first, I thought that it was going to pertain to the wedding, but instead I noticed the photo as being a lemur. While sitting at the kitchen table, I gasped, upon recognising the tiny baby clinging to the chest of her mother.
“Oh, what’s the matter?” Mum asked, as she walked into the room.
“There’s been a lemur born at Melbourne Zoo.”
I showed Mum the photo, eliciting a smile. Doing the maths, I reckon that she would have been pregnant before arriving. That’s not exactly what I imagine Reuben or Lina had in mind. Potentially the father would have been a close relative, but I didn’t know for sure. The sun drifted down, pinks and yellows and blues over the horizon. We returned the macaques to their night dens for the evening, placated by the provision of food. The doves had already moved indoors. I pulled the rope to close the door, then tied it off. The wind swayed the gumtree which towered over the aviary, majestic and storied. Mum prepared dinner for us, a combination of broth and Christmas leftovers. The turmeric and lime fish didn’t make me feel queasy. At least with the meal, we’d be clearing out the fridge. When I had a mouthful, my phone tolled. I reached across to check the message, hoping that there would be updates from Alex and Ella’s wedding. It would have been a joy to be there. Reuben sent me through some shots of the whole group, of the Melbourne and Werribee keepers. The pics were a little blurry, but that only made me smile. I noticed that Ella wore her hair out. She looked like a dream. I wouldn’t have expected anything else. Once I returned to my room, I flicked through my diary, noticing my psych visits which had already passed. I transferred the events that would be to come, into the fresh pages of a new book. I knew that I would need to book another appointment. That could wait until the new year, or at least until the following morning. I thought about texting Patrick some of the photos I’d taken in the zoo. Yet, we needed to create some distance, so I refrained. I got into bed and checked social media. Only a few minutes ago, Ella had uploaded a photo to Instagram. Her curls were slightly pinned back, with flowers decorating her hair just like we’d talked about. I couldn’t have double-tapped the photo quick enough to like it. Ella and Alex looked into each other’s eyes with such love, their happily-ever-after obvious.
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.