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“Joel was a carnivore keeper. The tigers were part of his morning rounds.”

The sound of Bill Nevill’s voice was unmistakable. Jamila was sitting at a computer in the corner, a grainy stream on the screen.

“I didn’t know that they broadcast these things, until today.”

Jamila breathed out as she pushed her wheely chair back from the desk.

“Yeah, neither did I,” she admitted.

“We have one tiger, a male Sumatran, Jaya. He is housed in the exhibit.”

“And we present Exhibit P, the blueprint of the Sumatran Tiger complex.”

The voice came from off-screen. I gathered that he must have been the lawyer; he was the one asking the questions.

“The path of the attack is marked on that Exhibit,” the lawyer noted.

I was glad I couldn’t see.

“Jumilah,” Whitlam spoke from the doorway to the staffroom, “can you spare a minute, please?”

“Yes, of course.”

I walked towards him.

“Would you like to come with me out onto the savannah?”

“Yeah, I--.”

Whitlam looked into the room. I sensed that he noticed that Jamila was watching the inquest. Glancing up, I noticed a cobweb in the corner where the roof met the wall.

“If you want to stay, that’s OK.”

“No,” I responded, shaking my shoulders. “I don’t want to think about it, really.”

Therefore, Whitlam and I departed the staff quarters, heading to the feed shed, then the vehicles, climbing into a ute to drive out onto the savannah and distribute breakfast to the ungulates. After we’d finished, we returned to the cabin of the car.

“Have you ever tried breeding giraffes here?” I asked Whitlam.

“Yes, in fact, once,” he replied, with a nod of his head.

I was a little surprised; this was new information to me. Whitlam continued to drive slowly through the savannah.

“We’ve only ever had one female giraffe here. After that, Werribee’s always been a bachelor facility.”

“Can I ask, what happened to the only female?”

“Ah, she died, I think, shortly after arrival. I’m not sure what happened to her.”

“And then that put a kibosh on the breeding program, I take it.”

“Yes,” Whitlam confirmed. “Plans must have changed after that. Unless you’re breeding a solitary species, or something like chimps where the males stay in the group, you need bachelor facilities as part of the breeding program. The males you breed but can’t breed from, need to go somewhere.”

We happened upon one of the female rhinos, sitting down and flicking her ears.

“What are we going to do with you, eh?” Whitlam sounded like he was almost posing the question to himself. “What are we going to do with you?”

I kept my eyes on the grass, as we slowly resumed moving through Werribee’s savannah.

“Do you want to go for a little drive?” Whitlam offered, a tad out of the blue.

“Yeah, alright,” I agreed, so he accelerated.

Whitlam approached the gate leading out of the savannah, so I hopped out of the ute and opened it, allowing him to drive through. Once he’d cleared, I made sure the gate was closed and locked again. I then caught up to Whitlam, climbing back into the passenger seat. He took me around the perimeter of the zoo. I wasn’t sure where we were heading. Out the window I glanced over Werribee. It’s a vast place, a magnificent open range zoo which almost makes you believe that giraffes and zebras ought to be roaming around Australia.

“What do you think about this whole gondola thing they’re apparently going to build?”

Whitlam finally laughed.

“Oh, I don’t know. It’ll probably be a white elephant, but, hey, we can say that we’re exhibiting Australia’s first white elephant herd!”

I chuckled. We returned to the staff quarters in time for lunch, via a detour to the construction site for the elephants. I opened the door to the small fridge, to fetch the leftovers which I’d brought to eat, along with a fork. Container in hand, I stepped silently into the staffroom, where Jamila seemed to be unmoved behind her computer.

“I came into work in the morning, I would have arrived around seven-thirty,” Charlotte recalled. “We were meant to sign in at the office, so that they’d know we were on site.”

I stood over Jamila’s shoulder, trying to eat my lunch as quietly as possible while we watched in horrified silence.

“Did you sign in at the office on the day in question, September 19?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Did you always?”

After a moment, Charlotte shook her head.

“No, I didn’t.”

“Was there a particular reason for that?”

My heart thumped, uncertain what this had to do with Joel’s death.

“If Bill was in the office, I’d steer clear.”


“Bill is, how do I put it, handsy. If you’re in there, and you’re in the office on your own, he’ll come up to you, put his hands up your clothes, sort of put his lips on your neck.”

“What a slimy piece of work.”

Charlotte’s hands were frozen in front of her, fingers clenched.

“Whenever we could, we would avoid being alone with him, but Bill wasn’t in the office that morning. I’m not sure where he was, to be honest.”

I glanced down into my container. I’d still not finished my food, but no longer had an appetite.

“What are you doing this afternoon?”

“I’m not sure, really.”

I glanced at my watch.

“Hamish is up at the vet hospital today, I think. I might go up there and check in.”

Jamila nodded, affirming my decision. I followed her out of the staff quarters. It had come over cloudy, while we’d been inside. I burrowed my hands into my pockets, protecting my hands from the cold. We strode over to the wildlife hospital. Hamish happened to be departing about the same time that I arrived, greeting us solemnly.

“You’ve heard?”

He nodded. Hamish’s hands were burrowed into his pockets.

“Unfortunately, we have work to do.”

The world would keep turning, including that of administration. I wasn’t even sure if there would still be a carnivore TAG meeting. Faintly I could hear construction noise coming from the development of the new elephant complex, while I raked down the path outside the cheetah exhibit. At least this was something I could do. The simple, menial labour served as somewhat of a balm for my heavy heart. I worked under grey skies. Once I had completed my tasks, I set the rake back into its place, and Jamila returned.

“Hey. I’m not sure what’s happening with the carnivore TAG this afternoon, not that it matters.”

“Yeah, we’re still going to have a meeting. I think that we just need to be together.”

I nodded. With a heavy heart, I joined the Zoom call, even though a part of me desired the crisp solitude of Werribee’s open spaces, rather than an office. As soon as I saw the other despondent faces, my heart sank. As I listened to my racing pulse, a part of me, though, was grateful for the sense of community, of burnt-out animal lovers.

“The plan had been for Gerard to present on the small-clawed otter program.”

Monica breathed out, indicating things had changed.

“Next time, I can talk about otters,” Gerard promised.

A chorus of nods zigzagged across my screen.

“Would we still like to do member reports?”

The decision was made that we each could share, if we felt the need. As I fiddled with the band of my watch, it occurred to me that sticking with the name, Acarda Zoo, would mean that we would be first cab off the rank, in the future.

“Darling Downs Zoo?”

“We’ve been weighing our female binturong regularly. She’s been putting on weight, so all signs would indicate that she’s pregnant.”

“That’s great news, mate.”

Australia’s first purebred Javan Binturong birth would be an exciting development.

“Are you planning to conduct an ultrasound or blood tests?”

“No, not at this stage,” Raffa confirmed. “We’ll just wait and see. If there’s no birth and we’re concerned about her health, then we could get the vets involved.”

“Sounds like a solid strategy,” David affirmed.

“Reuben, have you got anything to say at the moment?”

He shook his head.

“No, not today, mate, I’m sorry.”

Reuben sniffled.

“Mogo Wildlife Park?”

“We’ve been able to integrate Arizona and her cubs with the male.”

“That’s great news, Julie,” Graeme responded with a grin.

“How many prides are you running at the moment?”

“Two,” Julie answered. “We’ve got Arizona with her cubs and the male, and then the older cubs separately.”

“Are they on-display right now?”

“Yeah, Arizona’s pride with the cubs is.”

“Taronga Western Plains Zoo?”

“We would like to bring for your consideration to transfer a male Sumatran Tiger to our campus from Taronga Zoo in Sydney.”

“Ah, which male?”


“Would you transfer Satu to Dubbo, to allow him to breed there?”

“Look, it would be good for Satu to breed again,” Claire acknowledged, “but I’m not sure.”

“Surely Indah would be post-reproductive now.”

“Jumilah, may I ask, how is the construction progressing?”

“Well, I’ve been on the mainland I must admit, so my parents are probably the best people to talk to.”

“That’s all good. I’m sure you’ll know more in due course. Sam, I wanted to ask about the dholes.”


“How are you preventing pregnancy in the young female?”

“We actually haven’t been doing anything in terms of contraception.” An uneasy hush fell over the meeting. “That’s in keeping with our conversations with Jelita Sitompul, who is Jumilah’s grandmother.”

Once the meeting finished, I breathed out heavily and shut my laptop, returning it to my backpack. I reencountered the others. We drove home from the zoo, then I sat down with Jamila while the guys cooked. I felt a little guilty. Whitlam and Hamish had worked just as hard as we did. Beautiful smells wafted through the house, as I noticed the meals being served up. Hamish handed plates of dinner over the back of the lounge.

“Thank you,” I said, accepting my food.

“Yeah, thanks,” Jamila added.

I started to eat, but I was transfixed by the evening news.

“Perth Zoo may still face charges from the safe work regulator as a result of the inquest into the death of zookeeper Joel Donovan.”

The screen, dappling coloured light across our faces, changed to footage from the zoo.

“Today’s hearing revealed a culture of work where staff were harassed and placed in risky situations.”

Hamish and Whitlam sat down on the other recliners.

“It’s just terrible,” Whitlam lamented.

Hamish ran a hand over his face with a sigh. It had been less than a week since Joel’s funeral, so the inquest had been fast-tracked.

“You know, it beggars belief that people want to work in with tigers. Surely you must be always thinking about the risks.”

My mind went straight to Hunter. Some would level that he ought to have known better, even though he didn’t strike me as a cowboy. At least Dawson was an American whom you’d expect to be a little bit crackers. I knew that free contact with lions and tigers used to take place at Mogo as well, but I was under the impression that had ceased as times had changed.

“It’s leopard seals, that’s the species I don’t fully understand--.”

“I’ve seen a real, live leopard seal before,” I mentioned.

I sipped my drink.

“Well, a dead one,” I qualified, “when I was at the vets at Dodges Ferry.”

“That’s cool.”

Whitlam sighed.

“Well, not the dead bit, I must clarify. That’s not cool. It’s pretty awful, actually.”


“Alright, bedtime.”

We headed upstairs. I cleaned my teeth, then rinsed the foamy toothpaste out of the sink. Slotting my toothbrush back into the cup, I closed the cupboard. My own reflection stared back at me in the mirror.


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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