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Insecure

Monday afternoon and another primate TAG meeting rolled around. My brain felt scattered.


“Let’s move onto the member reports.”


I draped my hand over my stomach. While I would have appreciated a lie-down once the meeting was finished, I doubted I would be afforded the opportunity.

 

“Acarda Zoo?”


“We have some good news,” I announced, with a smile on my face. “Some friends of mine would like to make an album featuring the sounds of our animals.”


I felt a little emotional.

 

“We’ve used musical enrichment with our orangutans,” Don outlined.


“I think it’s worthwhile if we discuss the Great Ape Project,” Angelique interjected.


She would have her turn later in the meeting. I couldn’t help but feel a little ambushed, although I had to acknowledge my privilege of being early in the alphabet.

 

“Look, we need to present a united front.”


A shiver went over me. My heart thumped, so my temptation was to turn off my video, but being in the meeting held me accountable to try to stave off a panic attack. It had been almost eighteen months since Kakek’s death and so much had changed in that time.

 

“Jumilah, you have our full support,” Reuben affirmed.


“Thank you, I appreciate that,” I chimed in. “At the end of the day, this is a good fundraising and promotional opportunity, but I know animal welfare is imperative.”


“Auckland Zoo?”

 

“How are you going with your Rainforest exhibit?”


“It’s a great exhibit, for sure.” Gerard folded his arms, leaning on his forearms on the tabletop in front of him. “At the moment, we don’t have a species to hold there. I’ll sure that I’ll find one before too long, so we really don’t have to worry.”

 

“Darling Downs Zoo?”


“Oh, Raffa, I see that you’ve listed on the collection plan that you would like to house orangutans at Darling Downs Zoo within three years,” Jimmy noted.


“Yes, we would love to, if we could. I know we’ll have to get our ducks in a row.”

 

“Would you be willing to import?”


“Yes, we would be,” Raffa replied, although I sensed some hesitation in his voice, “although we want to support the regional breeding program as best we can.”


He seemed to have tempered his approach from the meeting a fortnight ago. This was probably the best approach for everyone.


“Hunter Valley Zoo?”


“We’ve had a female spider monkey born overnight last Thursday.”


“Melbourne Zoo?”

 

“Nothing for us this week.”


I was pleased to know, from outside the meeting, that the new baby girl gorilla was going well, even though she still remained unnamed, at least publicly. The lack of update meant that none of the other females might have been pregnant.

 

“Monarto Safari Park?”


“I can confirm that Tsotsi has died,” Blessing revealed.


Even though I knew this was probably coming, I hadn’t yet received confirmation. I took a deep breath, trying not to look too sombre over the call.

 

“It does happen from time to time,” Reuben outlined.


“It’s a tragic situation,” Christine commented. “I speak for all of us when I say that I’m so, so sorry this is happening.”


“Thank you.”

 

“Taronga Zoo?”


“We would like to import a female gorilla from the United States.”


I was surprised by my gut reaction. While I was happy with the idea, the others felt like Sam was jumping the queue. I knew that there was a difficult road before all of us. Taronga Zoo had been hit hard by Wendy’s death. Especially with the question marks surrounding whether or not Johari would get to breed in the future, I knew that their once-successful program had been plunged into uncertainty. I understood why there was disagreement. The meeting came to an end before the matter was resolved. As the Zoom meeting closed and my screen returned to my calendar from which I’d sourced the link, I leaned back in my chair and rolled my lips. I reached for my phone and flicked through Instagram for a little while to distract me. Before long, though, I was called out into the zoo by Tallulah.

 

“I just thought you should see this.”


Sure enough, in the nocturnal house at the tarsier exhibit, there was a crack in the glass. It threatened to compromise their sealed environment. We needed to make sure that the temperature inside was maintained.

 

“How did this happen?”


“I’m not sure, sorry.”


Events like these seemed to be happening far too often. I just wanted to get through a few days without another crisis to face. I was grateful to have Tallulah around, even though I didn’t want her to be saddled with our problems yet again. At least baby Livi was healthy. That was the main thing. The tarsiers would be fine as long as we could ensure that the glass was fixed in time. Their back-of-house areas were also temperature controlled.

 

“Alright, let’s get some tape.”


There was some in the storeroom. Once we’d secured the crack, I returned to the house. We would need to have the whole pane of glass replaced, most likely. I called the number of the supplier and, thankfully, someone answered, so I told them the story.

 

“How did that happen?”


“Well, as far as we’re aware, it’s just happened.”


“Those sort of things don’t just happen.”


I felt like we’d been hoodwinked.

 

“Are we going to need to cut the electricity?”


I hoped we wouldn’t have to for the whole building. Concern was painted across Mum’s face.


“No, it should be fine.”


I couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. This situation was hard enough as it was. All I could think about was Kakek. I knew that we needed to ring Nanek. She would want to know how we were going, and I was keen to find out the latest developments in her life, too. As much as I wanted my grandmother to be out there saving the world, I needed to be acutely aware of her frailties, physical and emotional. We spoke while I was outside. Nanek reassured me. I needed to get in contact with her more often. It was easy to believe that Nanek was outside of the machine. We started talking about Kakek. She wanted to know whether I thought about him in the middle of the night and I didn’t have to be a psychologist to assume that she was looking for validation. Like an anti-hero, Nanek confessed that she thought about killing Kakek’s murderers. At first, I was shocked by her words. I’d not spent that much time pondering revenge. I had to ask the question. Did Nanek want to take matters into her own hands? Of course, once that particular question was out of the box, I couldn’t stuff it back in. I presumed Nanek wouldn’t act on what she’d said. Kakek was the love of her life. I hoped that I would get the chance to find that kind of relationship. Unfortunately whoever I married would be marrying the zoo, too. Maybe that was something I could think about in the middle of the night, too. I wouldn’t tell my parents. I couldn’t believe that the conversation could so easily return to Nanek visiting at Christmas. We’d be so busy with the zoo, but my grandmother possessed the skills to help us out, plus she held a deep familiarity with the animals. Talking to Nanek had been a long time coming, and I was glad that we had the opportunity to chat. Finally, when the call ended, I placed the phone back in Mum’s hands.

 

“How are you?”


“I’m alright.” I sniffled. “It’s been a big day.”


We returned to the house for food prep, during which I filled Mum in on the events of the primate TAG meeting.

 

“Who gets to make the decision?” she wanted to know.


“Well, the Australian gorilla program is an extension of the EEP, so ultimately, the European primate TAG and the species coordinator. There’s the possibility they could import from North America.”


“I see.”

 

We finished our food prep. I felt a little queasy, so I reached for a drink of water from the fridge.


“I’ll get started on dinner for us, too, if that’s OK,” Mum decided.


“Of course, that would be lovely.”


I found myself getting distracted by my emails. A request had been made from Raffa regarding the siamang program. He wanted to acquire a pair. I was obliging to transfer them a surplus male from Mogo to fill another exhibit, as well as a female, although all the options within the region were close relatives. This was something which I ran past Mum as she cooked. I wouldn’t have thought they would be a breeding pair, which would require the female to be on contraception, but I was still willing to make the transfer on welfare grounds. With a sigh, I placed down my phone – I didn’t need to be making this decision right now. We’d just had the primate TAG meeting earlier in the day. Really, the issue should have been raised then, but I wasn’t going to point that out, even if I was going to use it as an excuse to take my time in dealing with the issue. Perhaps it had just been that we were distracted by other issues. Tsotsi’s death was a tragedy, and maybe the orangutan import was considered the more important point of discussion. When I heard from Steve, my first thought was that he was going to be asking something outlandish. It was maybe unfair, because he’d demonstrated himself to be pretty modest so far. However, my instincts were proven correct. Steve had formed a list of species he wanted to acquire once he achieved ZAA membership, including hippos and siamangs. I knew why Steve might have expected favours – and we did need to work together. While I couldn’t see where he was intending to house siamangs, there would be room for building an enclosure. All Steve would need was the money to make sure that the animals were adequately cared for.


“Do you think that she’ll be having another baby soon?”

 

“Look, Jelita’s over a year now. Tallulah and Doctor Thomas can monitor when Georgia is cycling and whether she’s pregnant again. There’s no point putting her on contraception when we want to breed at natural intervals.”


“Sounds good to me,” Mum affirmed, then she removed dinner from the oven.

 

She placed it on the bench.


“I can go and get Dad.”


“Thanks.”


I scampered off through the house to find my father and tell him that dinner was almost ready.

 

“I’ll come in a second, Jumilah.”


I happened to spy his computer screen. Even though it was none of my business, I lingered.


“I’m just working on the annual report.”


I was glad that Dad was organised. Eventually, he came for dinner. The conversation dimmed while we ate, providing plenty of time for my mind to race. Last thing I wanted was for my grandmother to end up in prison, which remained more of a live possibility than I would have anticipated twenty-four hours ago. As we finished our meal, I decided to have compassion.

 

“That was lovely, thank you, Catherine.”


“You’re welcome.”


Mum rose to her feet, taking the dishes with her. It struck me from time to time that she shouldered a fair bit of the domestic labour around our house, even though she was busy with the zoo, too.

 

“Dad,” I called out, “would you possibly be able to come over and help too?”


“Yeah, just in a minute, love.”


I nodded, busying my mind with the events of the TAG meeting earlier in the day. It was disappointing, to say the least. While the Australian zoos had the capacity to contribute to conservation breeding programs, it seemed we were hampered at every turn. I hoped that we would be able to find a resolution.


 

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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