I’d taken the day off and everything, for the inspection. I got up and had a shower. The steam and the water were calming, but I always felt like I was rushing. Therefore, I tried to be slow and deliberate as I stepped out of the shower and dried myself. I dressed myself, absent of the shield which a uniform can provide, because that would have been presumptuous. Breathing out, I marched out to the kitchen.
“Good morning,” Mum greeted me with a smile. “I’ve made you a cup of tea.”
She dabbed the teabag a couple of times, then removed it and dropped it into the compost.
“Thank you,” I said as Mum handed me the tea. “I really appreciate this.”
Steam rose from the surface. I deliberately took the chance to slow down, to leisurely sip at my tea, as a sort of calm before the storm of the impending inspection. We heard the rumble of a car approaching, which was unfamiliar enough. I slurped down the last of my tea. We walked out the front and encountered two men.
“Hello, I’m Kevin Freedman, here for the inspection.”
Bruce stood beside him. He would be representing the council. Not that we’re best mates, but it was good to have a familiar face. I had a rush of blood to my face, heart thumping even though it didn’t need to over-compensate.
“Thank you so much for coming.” I extended my hand for him to shake. “I’m Jumilah Fioray, it’s such a pleasure to meet you.”
We firmly, but briefly, shook hands.
“And this is my mother, Catherine, and my father, Adriano.”
They greeted each other.
“This is the property,” I declared, as we stepped out the back door, standing before the nocturnal house and prospective macaque exhibit.
We approached the nocturnal house first, entering just as visitors would. I looked through the glass window, surveying the first tarsier habitat.
“The nesting boxes have been custom made out of fibreglass. They provide the animals with a place to hide from the public if they wish, and to sleep.”
“And to rear their offspring?”
“Yes, well, if they breed.”
Theoretically, we should have no problem. We have constructed these enclosures to the specifications. I resisted the urge to blurt all of this out, to plead with Kevin and Bruce. They simply nodded their heads and made the occasional note.
“So, the tarsiers will be housed indoors permanently?”
“Yes,” I confirmed.
“Was that the case back in Sumatra?”
“No, it wasn’t, my grandparents housed them outdoors in a mesh enclosure.”
I felt like I was under pressure, to provide the correct answers to his questions.
“Would you like to enter the enclosure?” I offered. “As you can see, we’re offering the animals a small pond.”
Bruce said yes; Kevin said no. Kevin won. I took them down the rest of the corridor. We walked up to the aviaries, relatively simple mesh structures we constructed a while ago.
“This is where we’re planning on housing our bird species. I’ve been in discussion with the bird taxon advisory group. We’re planning on housing finches, fruit doves and lorikeets.”
“Right, that’s good.”
I didn’t probe the statement. It felt strange to be away from my phone, being deliberately uncontactable. Patrick would be working on my behalf, so I needed to trust that was going smoothly. I continued touring Kevin and Bruce around the zoo buildings for their inspection.
“I know that we’re surrounded by farming land. That’s why we’ve established a predator-proof fence. It’s more about keeping domestic farm animals out. We don’t want them getting eaten--.”
We arrived at the dhole exhibit.
“By the dholes.”
I nodded, as did Kevin.
“And there’s a water source on the property?”
“Yes, yes, there is,” I confirmed, spinning around to gesture in the direction of the creek. “We built in this area because it’s close to the road and close to the existing buildings are located.”
I finally felt a bit more assured.
“And all the animals have already been sourced?”
“Yes,” I confirmed, even though I didn’t think that was strictly relevant. “We have a reference from the CEO of Zoos Victoria, Reuben Hendricks.”
We continued on our way, Kevin not seeming to pay that much attention to the primate islands. My heart was thumping within my chest, while we lingered near the house. Would it be considered undue influence if I offered to him to come inside for a coffee?
“I’m not going to beat around the bush.”
Kevin made an extravagant tick on the piece of paper.
“You’ve passed the requirements to be granted a licence. We’ll email you through the documents and check back in to ensure that you’re meeting the requirements.”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Once back inside the house, I screamed. I leapt into Mum’s arms.
“Oh my goodness, that just happened.”
We withdrew, and Mum and Dad prepared lunch. I texted Patrick, telling him the result of the inspection in all caps, as well as letting Reuben know in advance. I sat down, finally getting to breathe and eat. It was time to join the primate TAG meeting, which started quickly after I logged into the Zoom meeting and my face popped up on the screen.
“I wanted to start off by congratulating Jumilah on passing the inspection for Acarda Zoo earlier today.”
A round of applause went around the meeting.
“And I’d also like to welcome Kyabram Fauna Park to the primate TAG.”
Frank O’Loughlin, a middle-aged man wearing thick-rimmed glasses, took himself off mute.
“Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here,” he assured us.
I grinned, feeling a sort of affinity with him, even though his establishment was older than mine. During this meeting, I needed to bring up the animal transfers. I figured that the time would come, and didn’t want to seem too bullish by stepping into Frank’s moment. To take a breath, I glanced towards the window, noticing the peppercorn tree swaying in a gentle breeze. It would have been almost time for Sungai Willow to be born, in another world.
“Our focus for this meeting will be the animals from the late Michael Sitompul’s sanctuary.”
Hearing his name still causes me to dissociate. There’s always something a little strange about hearing the names of your parents and grandparents. Of course I know it’s the same man. The discussion started with the tarsiers, the most unusual of the animals involved.
“We’d be interested here at Taronga in joining the program, if one’s established. My keepers feel the same, and I’ve loved having the tarsiers here.”
I could feel my heart beating faster. We’ve built the facilities. Personally, I didn’t want the group split. With only one male, it’s ideal if he’s able to breed with all of the females.
“I take it you’re planning on breeding, Jumilah,” Reuben surmised.
“Of course, we’d love to. That would be a first for Australia and New Zealand, if I’m not mistaken about that.”
“That’s fine. Let’s move onto the slow loris.”
“As far as I’m aware, the slow loris is not a particularly endangered species,” Gerard pointed out. “For me, personally, that’s one key reason why we wouldn’t consider taking them on here in New Zealand, although I’m not opposed to tropical species. We do have a tropical dome.”
“What about the macaques?”
“They were breeding over in Sumatra,” I reminded.
“You know, I loved our macaque troop,” David mused.
“I don’t want to set the cat amongst the pigeons.”
My heart beat faster, so I decided to change the subject.
“I was wondering what we’ll do about the transport arrangements. Of course, we’ll taken on the costs. Is that how it works? I don’t know. You’re doing us a favour, I feel like.”
I knew that I was rambling, a bit anxious that they would say no to my request.
“Absolutely, we’ll be able to transport the animals to Hobart. That’s what we’ve agreed all along.”
Sam spun his pen in his fingers. “We’ll need to organise the transfers. Do you have a date which you would like to be open by?”
“That works,” Sam agreed.
“I would love to come and see the place,” Sam assured me. “We might be able to fit that in.”
I beamed. We moved onto the question which had been supplied – about a siamang pairing.
“Well, Jumilah, you’re up again with this one, as species coordinator,” Christine invited.
“My concern would be inbreeding, but, to be honest, I don’t know how related they are.”
Jimmy brought up the software on his computer and shared his screen, to help me out.
“That’s only a 1.56% inbreeding coefficient,” Jimmy articulated. “I think that’s still a satisfactory pairing.”
Therefore, the decision was made, and we were able to move onto the member reports, the second – or third? – stage of the meeting. In this particular meeting, it would have been the third stage, following the check-in with the species coordinators.
“Just for Frank’s benefit, we go through, generally in alphabetical order, and check in with anything you’d like to report to the meeting.”
He nodded his head. There must have been a lot to take in, just like there had been for me, earlier in the year.
“I would like to show you something.”
Don started sharing his screen, flicking through photos. I beamed at the sight of baby Jelita, now almost six months old and growing up fast.
“Mating has been observed between our male orangutan, Bayu, and the new female, Melati. We’re going to organise with our vet team to be monitoring her, to determine whether she’s become pregnant.”
“Your orangs are due this month, aren’t they?”
“Yes, yes, they are,” Jimmy confirmed, with a big grin on his face which revealed what he was about to say. “In fact, Sekara gave birth late last night. She’s had a healthy baby boy.”
“That’s beautiful news,” I praised.
“There’s been a bit of unrest in our chimpanzee group during the week, they’ve been generally unhappy about something or other. Hopefully they’ll sort things out.”
The TAG meeting finished off with a chorus of goodbyes. I glanced towards the collection of cardboard which I’d souvenired from work. Now would be the time to start making nestboxes for the tarsiers, considering that it’s official that we’re going to be receiving them. Therefore, I fetched a pair of scissors from the kitchen and hacked the boxes apart. Mum strode through.
“What are you up to?”
“I’m just thinking, that’s all,” I admitted with something of a sad smile. “It’s been a big year.”
“It has been.”
“But you’re doing more than just thinking.”
I nodded my head, Mum knowing me too well. Dad wandered into the room, allowing me to show off the cardboard nestbox to him.
“You know, I reckon that we could get some firewood for those. I’m not saying don’t have the cardboard ones, just that it would be good for the tarsiers to have a bit of variety.”
“Yeah, sure,” I agreed.
I want the zoo to open and for my life’s work to be working with animals. That’s a job for life, a role which never ends.
Abbey Sim is a candidate for Honours in Communications at the University of Technology Sydney. She lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. Having started Huldah Media in 2021, Abbey desires to explore themes of hope, love and longing through her storytelling. She is the author of 'Shadow' and 'From the Wild'.