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Excitement

I knew both Isobel and Don would be travelling with the siamangs. On the way to the airport, I started to think about New Year’s Eve, inspired by a flier taped onto a telegraph pole, already advertising the local celebrations. I’d need to speak with Sam at some stage about how they deal with having fireworks so close to Taronga. Upon arrival at the airport, I needed to go to the toilet, but I wouldn’t have time. The airport staff led us onto the tarmac, where Isobel strode down from the plane. I thought about that day in Melbourne. Joel had come down from the plane in almost the same way, although he didn’t have to tuck long honey hair behind his ear. Don followed close behind us. I walked into Isobel’s embrace. We squeezed each other briefly, then there was work to be done. The two crates were offloaded from the cargo hold of the plane and into the truck. We piled into the cabin for the quick trip back home, and I was buzzing. Once we arrived back at the zoo, we pulled the truck into the property. Dad parked it right near the island. Four people on each crate, we shifted the siamangs into the back-of-house area. Medan weighs almost twelve kilos, plus the density of the timber, and Georgia would be about the about the same, taking into account Jelita, who had travelled on the direct flight from Adelaide with her mother. Mum and Luke had set out old cardboard boxes containing treats, to welcome the siamangs to their new home.


“You do the honours,” Isobel urged, and I lifted up the slides on the crates, to let Medan, Georgia and the baby out into the night dens.


Don offered to stay while I headed around to the front of the island. As I suspected that they would be, the siamangs were quick to explore the great outdoors. Jelita clung to her mother’s chest, Georgia keeping one hand on her daughter’s back to ensure she stayed safe. Medan walked along his partner, wobbling a bit in the way that the apes of the trees tend to, when ground-dwelling. I noticed that Georgia wore a white band around her wrist.


“The wristband is from her medical before the transfer,” Isobel explained, when I flashed a questioning expression towards her, but before I’d said anything. “She didn’t want to let us take it off.”


Finally, the family encountered their treats. They tucked into the melon. All of a sudden, Jelita made a break for it. I’d mainly been worried for her. Jelita hadn’t known anywhere else. Nonetheless, she was taking to her new home with the same enthusiasm and strength which her parents demonstrated.


“I’ve heard something spectacular about your nocturnal house here,” Don commented.


“I can show you, if you like,” I offered.


“Of course.”


We ambled across and entered the nocturnal house, through the door closest to the gate which leads back to our house. Isobel gasped softly in awe at the tarsiers, brachiating around their exhibit. I’m still getting used to the wonder of having them here.


“This is a wonderful set-up,” Don praised, nodding his head to reinforce how impressed he was by the nocturnal house and its inhabitants thus far.


We passed through and out the other end, skipping the still-empty exhibits. Mum and Dad met us there.


“You’ve met Don and Isobel before.”


“We have. Pleasure to see you again.”


Dad shook hands with Don, as I noticed Mum’s brow a little furrowed.


“Is everything alright?”


“Tallulah had called your phone. She just said she was ringing for a chat.”


“Right, thanks.”


Don turned to me.


“So, what’s next for the other side of the noccy house?” he wanted to know, with a smile on his face.


“We would love to add some tanks for fish, but for now, it’s good to have the wide viewing area.”


Don nodded, satisfied with that answer. We continued our tour, stopping briefly to look into the empty finch aviary before continuing on and into the lock.


“This is our walk-through aviary.”


I pressed open the door and held it ajar. Isobel and Don passed through, instinctively glancing upwards as you always tend do in that sort of environment.


“But there aren’t any birds in here at the moment.”


Isobel nodded her head firmly. We exited out the other end of the aviary and I pointed towards the first island.


“That’s where the gibbons are going to be.”


“Do you have a planned arrival date for them?” Don checked.


“Ah, yes, we do,” I confirmed. “They’ll have to come to Sydney first, then on a flight on the 19th of December, which is cutting it a little bit fine.”


“You’re opening on Boxing Day, right?”


“Yes,” I agreed with a nod.


We crossed the path. The place was starting to look like a zoo.


“And this is going to be our dhole exhibit.”


I took a breath through my nose and hoped the animals would appreciate their open-topped exhibit.


“The dholes are coming on Tuesday.”


“We’d thought about dholes at Adelaide Zoo,” Isobel mentioned.


“Anyway, that’s not for next year,” Don qualified. “That’s the year after.”


I glanced at Isobel, who dropped her hands into her pockets. Joel’s money might very well make a difference, but that wasn’t my place to say. We returned to the siamang island.


“Would you like to come inside for a coffee?”


“Great, thank you,” Don agreed, so I led him and Isobel back to the house, through the gate which had been installed to separate home from business.


Things had changed since we had the farm. While Mum prepared the drinks, I finally had the opportunity to go to the bathroom. I relieved myself, then washed my hands. When I returned, Mum was fetching mugs from the cupboard.


“Would everyone like a coffee, or would anyone prefer tea?” she enquired of the group.


I still turned on the coffee machine.


“Actually, a green tea would be lovely, thank you,” Don accepted.


I grinned. So did Mum.


“Coming right up.”


I turned back to Isobel and Don.


“There is something else I need to tell you,” he mentioned. “We have been concerned about Georgia not using the full space of her enclosure since Jelita was born.”


Prior to coming to the sanctuary, Georgia had been kept solitary.


“If you’re concerned, you can give her four hundred milligrams--.”


“Micrograms,” Isobel corrected as I handed her a coffee.


I nodded.


“Yes, of course, micrograms, thank you.”


Isobel and I exchanged a look. I was concerned about Don’s mistake, but hoped that it was a simple error. He wasn’t getting any younger.


“We’ll keep that in mind,” I promised. “How are you going?”


“Yes, good, thanks, keeping busy.”


“We’ve been looking to see how we can help with the ruffed lemur studbook,” Isobel outlined. “It’s good to make sure we have records and can work out where breeding needs to stop.”


It shouldn’t have surprised me that they were so inbred.


“Well, we’ve had some good news. We’re looking forward to new imports.”


“To Adelaide?”


“It’s helpful to bring in new genetics.”


We finally took the chance to sit down. I thought that it might be nice to have something to eat, but I wasn’t sure what we had available.


“For now, we’d use Monarto as a quarantine hub,” Isobel explained.


It had only been a short time ago that the two females had been transferred across from Perth Zoo, in the days after Joel’s funeral. I thought this represented a commitment from Adelaide to black-and-white ruffed lemur, which was appreciated considering the rumours swirling around.


“There’s another chimp pregnancy at Monarto,” Don mentioned, then sipped his tea. “She’s due to give birth in the next few days, actually.”


“I take it I’ll here all about it in the primate TAG when the time comes.”


“Yes, of course, you will, next week if not the week after that.”


He placed his mug down on the table.


“Jumilah, would I be able to visit your bathroom?”


“Yeah, of course, it’s just down the hallway, on the right, you can’t miss it.”


“Thanks,” Don said, standing up and scampering off.


I turned to Isobel, given the rare opportunity of just the two of us being able to talk. She shook her head.


“Joel told me all the time about the problems. I just thought it was like any other workplace drama and I feel ashamed that I didn’t take things more seriously. We were going to get married and we were going to live in Adelaide and everything was going to be fine then, I thought.”


I reached for Isobel’s hand, but missed. Don returned from the bathroom. I felt heat creep into my cheeks.


“Where were we?” he asked, picking up his tea again. “This is a lovely cuppa, thank you, Jumilah.”


“Most welcome, Don,” I responded. “You’re expecting lionesses soon, aren’t you?”


“Ah, yes, just from Monarto,” he confirmed. “Once the females arrive, I’m assuming that we’ll get a breeding recommendation. Mwenyezi’s a genetically valuable male because his parents were imported from South Africa, so cubs would be a wonderful outcome.”


I sipped my coffee and glanced at Isobel. Our conversation had been truncated and I feared for her troubled mind.


“Yes, I agree,” Isobel chimed in. “Really, there’s a lot of exciting things happening at Adelaide Zoo, especially with the thought we’ll have gorillas back again within the next few years. At least from a primate team perspective, it’s pretty good.”


“I saw gorillas for the first time at Melbourne Zoo in the 1970s,” Don recalled. “Those exhibits were very small. If you think they used to fit three ape species into that area where the lemurs are kept now--.”


“It’s hard to think of. Things were clearly different.”


“In the bad old days.”


I pondered what had happened to Charlotte and to Joel, their humanity unable to save them amidst the dark underbelly of the zoological garden, a toxic workplace like any other across Australia. Maybe the bad old days weren’t over, after all. Don looked at me, the lines on his face more obvious, or perhaps just more pronounced under my gaze.


“I’m sure your grandfather would be very proud of you.”


He took a small sip of his tea. I noticed Isobel’s hand tightening around her mug, her knuckles getting whiter with every second which passed. Thoughts raced through my mind as I elected an appropriate topic of conversation.


“Hunter is looking at fish species for the Indonesian development there,” I mentioned. “It’s something we’ve thought about here, but I’ll admit, I haven’t really done much.”


“I’m not sure if you know, Jumilah, but we’re planning for an aquarium in a couple of years. That will be part of our Tropical North precinct when we redevelop for that.”


“Ah, well, I’m very impressed by your plans for that.”


Don presented me with a fond smile. We shared a common interest in how to house animals indoors – or at least partially indoors – without compromising their welfare, so I was always keen to discuss that topic.


“Well, our reptile house was one of the buildings we retained, as you would have seen. We’ve expanded it and, if I can say so, it’s a beaut modern facility now.”


I looked at the kitchen clock.


“Would you like to have a bite to eat?” I offered. “You would have time before your flight, I think.”


Isobel and Don accepted my offer, so I dressed up some leftovers, soto padang which Mum had cooked.


“This is delicious.”


I grinned with pride at my family’s culture, and the culinary traditions I’d grown up with. Sharing this food with Isobel and Don felt like I was opening a window into my soul, and inviting them in. Following lunch, we returned them to the airport, dropping the two of them off for their flight back to Adelaide. Mum drove us back home, then I settled down at the computer. I needed to finish off the studbook updates which I’d commenced the previous evening.


 

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.


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