I stood within the terminal, watching the plane from Sydney touch down. I sucked in a sharp breath and my heart started to beat much faster. I stepped out through the automatic doors onto the hard tarmac, as the swirling wind blew into my face. The airport workers scurried around in their high-visibility uniforms, which glowed under the bright midday sun. Mum and Dad followed behind me, as we walked towards the end of the plane. Patrick drove the truck in line with us, driving slowly in order to make sure that he didn’t pass us. Sam disembarked the plane, shaking hands with an airport worker as he strolled onto the tarmac.
“Jumilah!” Sam called out while he approached us.
“How was the flight?” I asked.
“I think it was all good. The animals are still alive, we’re about to get them off the plane, I just wanted to come and say hello first.”
“We need to get them off the plane,” I decided, speaking hastily, desperately on edge, in fear that something awfully wrong was about to happen.
The baggage handler drove a forklift in. As the back of the plane opened, I took a step closer. I wasn’t quite sure what I needed to do, but I thought back to our best-laid plans. It wasn’t helpful to be just standing around; I needed to open the back of the truck. I climbed up and unlocked the doors, securing them open so that the crates could be shifted inside. The forklift beeped. The crates were larger than I thought they would have been. Tarsiers require temperature-controlled environments and brachiating room, even in transit.
“Thank you,” I spoke to the forklift driver, once the crates were loaded into the truck.
We drove back to the zoo. Western Tarsiers are incredibly sensitive. Somehow, they have been kept alive in captivity away from Indonesia thus far, and now it’s our responsibility to continue that record. I’d be lying if I said that sometimes, I wondered whether what we were doing was right at all. Self-assurance isn’t something which you can have every minute of every day, nor should you really aim for that. We lifted them out of the back of the truck. In a procession Mum, Dad, Luke and I went to the exotics nocturnal house. There is a double wall at the back, to prevent the cold Tasmanian winters from creeping into their holding area heated to tropical temperatures. Back-of-house was not dissimilar to the exhibit. We offloaded the tarsiers into their exhibit. Shutting the door behind us, the four of us retreated to the visitor area, my heart thumping. The tarsiers would be able to choose when, and whether, they exited their heated, humidity-controlled crates – their timeline was not up to us. Ibu was first to emerge. She leapt from the crate, then found her way into one of the nestboxes, where she hid. Belitung, next, headed for the pond.
“Would you like a coffee, Sam?” Dad offered.
“I’m alright, thank you,” he replied, but Mum shot across a look, so I knew I needed to calm down.
Trying to feel confident about our job so far, we exited the nocturnal house. The macaques, on the other hand, were arriving from northern Tasmania by truck, so we had a brief break before they turned up in the late afternoon.
“It’s so strange to have you here, to be honest,” I admitted, while I prepared hot drinks.
My phone beeped. Thinking it might be David, I instinctively checked the message.
Luke had started a group chat with myself and Angus, as well as his two other cousins on Aunty Paula’s side, Freya and Clara. Sam finished his coffee.
“What time’s your flight?”
I was trying to get rid of him, I was just checking in. It would be easy to let a day like this get away from me, time-wise.
“Not until three this afternoon.”
I finished off my coffee, too.
“My goodness, I could do with another,” I remarked, “but I’ll have a tea instead.”
I produced peppermint teas for Sam and I, less caffeine than another coffee.
“Thanks for this.”
We headed back to the nocturnal house. That was all that there was to do for now, to ensure that the tarsiers were settling in well to their new habitat, but I couldn’t find them. I sat on the concrete floor cross-legged, cradling my warm mug of peppermint tea in my palms. I watched, nervously, as Sam opened the door. He moved away, and I suddenly and sharply sucked in a breath, waiting for the animals to appear. Belitung, the male, was first. Clinging to the branch, he scratched its surface. Belitung’s small hind legs moved rapidly. Sam moved into place beside me, and sat down, folding his knees.
“It’s alright,” he promised, “He’s adjusting well.”
“I can’t believe that you’re the optimistic one,” I pointed out.
“I’ll miss this one,” Sam admitted, “and I don’t often say that.”
I swayed briefly towards him, with a grin.
“That’s alright,” I permitted. “You’re allowed. He is.”
We watched the tarsiers in awe, while we finished our tea.
“Job done, ey,” I remarked. “At least for now.”
Once we finished off our tea, I took Sam for a tour around the rest of the empty zoo.
“This is where we’ll house the loris from Perth.”
“Nice,” Sam praised. “I like what you’ve done with the lights.”
“Thank you. We wanted to replicate natural light as much as possible, both for the animals and also so that live plants could grow in the exhibits.”
Sam gave an impressed smile towards me.
“And then, up here, this will be the Tasmanian devil end. They’re arriving in a couple of weeks from Healesville, four sisters from the one litter.”
“It wouldn’t be a zoo in Tassie without devils.”
The devil exhibits are half-indoor, half-outdoor. We passed out of the nocturnal house, into the sunshine.
“And then, up here are our bird aviaries,” I explained. “The first one’s for finches, and then the second one’s a walk-through.”
We passed by the first enclosure.
“Have you got any plans for Christmas?” Sam enquired.
“Well, I’m not sure if you’d heard, we’re opening a zoo the next day.”
Sam laughed, nonetheless.
“We’re going to my Nonna and Nonno’s place, although Nanek’s flying in from Indonesia to spend Christmas with us as well, which is exciting.”
“How’s your grandmother been getting on?”
“Ah, she’s alright,” I confirmed. “She spent some time with my aunty in the south, but she’s back up north now.”
“Where she and your grandfather lived?”
We passed through the lock. I sensed Sam had questions he wasn’t asking me.
“Nanek is wanting to set up the sanctuary again, but what that looks like will just depend.”
“On what, may I ask?”
“A lot of things. If there aren’t animals in need of rescue, then she won’t keep them permanently. You’d know this, things are always changing.”
Sam and I walked through the aviary, which wasn’t as enchanting when there were no birds housed there. We exited out the other side, finishing off the zoo loop.
“And then we’ve got two islands here, one for the white-handed gibbons and the second one for the three siamangs.”
I turned around to face Sam.
“Well, that’s everything.”
“It’s a great little place.”
Sam tapped his fingertips against the outside of his mug.
“I’ll take that for you.”
I ducked the mugs back into the house. We drove Sam back to the airport.
“Thanks for the lift.”
Sam got out of the car and walked through into the terminal. From there, I drove back home. There wasn’t much time before the carnies meeting. I sat down at my laptop and joined the call. Dawson from Dreamworld had some news to share, that he planned to support a Sumatran Tiger pair. I scanned the screen, looking for Tessa. She didn’t seem to be there, although, as it turned out, I wouldn’t be staying in the carnivore TAG meeting for very long.
“I’ll have to go,” I announced. “I can hear the truck coming in, that’ll be David with the macaque troop.”
Beaming at a chorus of well wishes, I left the meeting. As soon as I emerged from the house, I could hear the macaques squawking, and I could smell them. Rather than being offensive, the pungent aroma reminded me that our zoo was coming together. We opened the gates to allow the truck through. It beeped as it reversed towards the macaque exhibit.
“Alright, stop here,” Dad requested.
The truck parked and we opened the back doors, offloaded the crates one by one. We had already agreed that we were going to release the animals into the night dens. David and I barely had time to greet each other, before we had work to do, shifting the crates into the opening. Moving them onto the trolley, the males were moved first. They’re the heavier animals, followed by the lighter females. I licked my lips as we opened the slide on the first crate, allowing the dominant male, Keenan, to access his new night dens behind the exhibit for the first time. Unable to be still, I moved as if I’d done this a million times before. I was most anxious about Cleopatra and her infant, Sariya, the last to be born before Kakek’s passing. We made sure to move some of the other females – Aria and Sarita – first. They would provide meaningful support to Cleopatra in the case of any unrest, because she would need to protect Sariya. I finally grinned, as mother and daughter rejoined the others. Kakek’s fame came to my mind. I should have been paying more attention, but I could sense his presence, which carried me through. Before I knew it, the entire troop was in the night dens. The presence of some food helped them to bond and settle into their new home. David and I walked around to the visitor path, while I fidgeted with the neckline of my shirt. My fingertips shifted to Kakek’s cross around my neck, as we paused, providing the opportunity to Mum and Dad to let the macaques outside for the first time. The slide was opened into the main macaque exhibit, so that they would be able to explore the great outdoors. As the dominant female, Aria was the first to emerge and start exploring her troop’s habitat. Cleopatra followed, Sariya on her chest. Keenan approached the threshold, staying there, knuckles bent, not touching the grass. Until he left, the others would remain indoors. I nibbled on the inside of my bottom lip, willing the macaques to leave their night dens to make the move complete. Exclaiming the excitement and terror we shared, Keenan finally galloped out into his new enclosure, the other thirteen macaques close to his heels.
“Could you take me on a quick tour?”
David and I ducked into the nocturnal house. This time, the tarsiers had gained more confidence, and there were three of them in full view, moving slowly around the plants up the front of the exhibit.
The tarsiers seemed to have taken David’s breath away.
“They arrived earlier this morning,” I explained, then we made our way through the rest of the zoo. “So, that’s the place.”
I breathed out, not quite knowing what to say next.
“Oh, do you want some hot goss? Dreamworld’s importing a new tiger pair.”
“They said that at the carnivore TAG meeting.”
“I missed the whole thing, but that doesn’t bother me.”
“Thank you for everything today.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
We farewelled each other, then David got back into the truck. I waved as he drove away, in pursuit of Launceston. While I hoped that David would get back in touch when he arrived safely, we hadn’t discussed that. The sun was setting when I strolled back past the new macaque exhibit. They were perched on the grass at the front. I smiled fondly, and walked towards the barrier. I curled my fingers around the wooden bar, attached to the front wall by slanted short round slats of wood. I leaned over, maybe a bit further than I would advise any patrons to do. The patrons, the visitors – we would be opening on Boxing Day. I couldn’t help but be a little bit scared by that possibility. I didn’t want to have to share this beautiful world with other people. Would anybody even want to come? I closed my eyes and shuddered, because I could not think like that. I was not helpful to worry, especially not now. I opened my eyes again, and smiled. I glanced up across the exhibit at the Southern Pig-Tailed Macaques, my Southern Pig-Tailed Macaques, it could be said. I heard a ruffle in the foliage, and Mum appeared from behind the exhibit.
“Ready for night rounds?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I agreed.
I ran my fingers through my hair.
“Would you come with me?” I asked tentatively.
“Of course,” Mum agreed.
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.