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Knowing

Just like usual, for the end of the week, Nikki picked me up from the Roberts’ farm. I even noticed a hint of spring warmth in the air, although I still wore my Zoos Victoria jacket. While we were on the way to the sanctuary, Isobel called me.


“Hey,” I greeted her. “How are you? I’m just in the car with Nikki.”


“So, you’re back at Healesville?”


“Yeah,” I confirmed. “I’ve got this week and next week and then I’m at Werribee.”


“Nice, nice,” Isobel responded.


“Have you ever considered a move to Monarto?”


“Mate, give me orang and gibbons over chimps and wide open spaces any day,” Isobel answered. “Well, maybe not the wide open spaces. I would love more room. At the same time, Joel’s applied for the job here, so we’ll wait and see about that.”


“Have you had to, like, write him a reference or something?”


“I’ve told Don about our relationship, I couldn’t do anything else. It would be a conflict of interest.”


“I certainly don’t envy your position,” I told her. “Truly, I hope Joel gets this job.”


“I hope so too,” Isobel replied. “Then, he can come to Adelaide and he can leave everything else behind him. We can be together.”


“Oh, I’ve been meaning to ask, do you know how Erin is?” I enquired.


“Yeah, she’s going alright, as well as can be expected given the circumstances.”


“I’m pleased to hear that. It’s still a terrible injury. You just don’t expect something like that to happen. I don’t even know how it would have happened.”


“It would have been so awful if she’d lost her hand. Just another bad thing to happen.”


“Tell me about it,” I replied.


“Well, I’d better let you go,” Isobel said. “I’m just about to do the morning orang feed.”


“That sounds like a lot of fun.”


“Yeah, it is,” Isobel agreed. “Have a good day, Jumilah.”


“Thanks, you too,” I responded, then we ended the call.


I slipped my phone into my bag. Nikki pulled up the car in her usual spot.


“Everything all good?” she checked.


“Yeah,” I confirmed. “I’ve been speaking to Isobel Carey, from Adelaide Zoo. Her partner, Joel, he’s a carnivore keeper at Perth Zoo and he’s going for the Head of Carnivores position at Adelaide.”


“I did know that.” Nikki chuckled. “I suppose word gets around.”


We assessed the whiteboard, outlining the requests from the keepers for the day. Echidnas would be introduced for mating, provided the male passed a medical check, which Nikki would carry out.


“Josh and I actually met through work. He treated a colleague of mine, Jo, you’ve met Jo?”


“Yes.”


I smiled. That wouldn’t have been what I would have predicted.


“Is that right?”


Nikki nodded calmly.


“It seems like a long time ago now.”


Nikki and I arrived at the echidna exhibit, where the male had been isolated into an off-exhibit area.


“Here, there’s something I’d like to show you.”


Margie arrived to ensure that all was running smoothly.


“We’re planning on breeding from this male, all being well, so we need to give him a checkup.”


She retrieved him from the enclosure. Nikki sat the echidna on a towel on his lap, prodding his genitals so that she would be able to inspect his reproductive organs. His penis popped out – with all four heads on it. Nikki allowed herself a giggle, myself unable to hide how my eyes were bulging from my head, just like the echidna’s multi-headed penis.


“Looks like it’s in working order.”


“Do you think it’s time to get the show on the road?”


“We may as well.”


We released the male back into the enclosure, and in with the female, who was swiftly followed.


“Ah, it’s an echidna train,” Nikki remarked.


One of the males finally reached the female. As he mounted her, I knew what was about to happen.


“They could mate for an hour.”


Meanwhile, the less-than-successful males were distracted with food. From there, we headed off to the platypus exhibit, known at Healesville as the Platypussary.


“It’s a monotreme sort of day.”


Nikki observed the male in the exhibit.


“Do you think that these platypus could be released back into the wild one day?”


“Oh, it would be a dream, it would be an absolute dream,” Nikki gushed, “but it would be unlikely, unfortunately.”


My face fell, and I knew she could tell.


“They are translocating wild platypus up in New South Wales, so, you know, maybe one day.”


Nikki turned her attention from the platypus, to me.


“Are you alright here?”


I nodded. Therefore, Nikki departed to return to the wildlife hospital, which was only a few hundred metres down the path. The platypus swished through the water, leaving a trail of bubbles behind him. I’d been at Healesville long enough to be able to find my own way back to the wildlife hospital, where I encountered Nikki. She was in one of the examination rooms, performing a procedure on one of the sanctuary’s female dingoes. I fetched a surgical mask, covering my face on the way through.


“Alright, starting compressions.”


As Nikki applied pressure to Alinta’s chest, a regular heartrate returned to the monitor.


“We’ve got her back.”


My own heart thumped. Nikki concluded the procedure as swiftly as possible. Alinta was returned to her dens and provided the reversal drugs, allowing her to come to, although she was still a little groggy. Adrenaline coursed through my veins, and I felt like the day had taken an age. We slowly walked back to the staff quarters where our belongings were left.


“Are you ready to go?” Nikki checked.


“Yeah,” I confirmed, grabbing my bag and slinging one strap over my shoulder. “Let’s go home.”


We walked out of the wildlife hospital.


“You did really well today, Jumilah,” Nikki commended. “I’m proud of you.”


“Thank you,” I said, then we returned to the Roberts’ family farm and got out of Nikki’s car, waving her goodbye as I approached the front door. Entering the house, I walked through into the kitchen, where Mrs Roberts was chopping up potatoes.


“Hello, Jumilah. How was your day?”


“Good, thank you.” I smiled. “Is there anything I can help you with?”


“No, no, I’m alright. It’s nothing flash.”


“Alright, thanks. I’m going to go and have a shower.”


Washing off the day was just what the doctor ordered. Once I was dry and changed into fresh clothes, I strode back out to the kitchen. I listened to dinner sizzling in the pan, a few flecks of oil jumping from the non-stick surface, darkened by years of use.


“Is there anything I can do to help?” I offered.


“No, it’s alright, it’s pretty straightforward. I’ve been doing this for years, and you’re a guest.”


“Thank you.”


Therefore, I had a little bit of time to myself, being looked after. I sat down in the loungeroom in front of the television and almost nodded off to sleep. Just before my head dipped, dinner was taken to the table, so I pulled myself up again and joined the others. Thankfully, eating perked me up a bit. Once we were finished the meal, I received a call. Reaching over, I answered my phone.


“Hi, Jumilah.” Nikki’s voice was circumspect. “I just wanted to let you know that the owl hasn’t made it.”


My stomach churned, so I forced myself to breathe out.


“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. Do they know why she died?”


“No, not at this stage. We’ll perform an autopsy, but likely her injuries from before she came into us were too severe. She might have had a bleed we didn’t detect until it was too late, but I would just be speculating.”


Once Nikki and I finished on the phone, it was time to feed the baby goat, a task Mrs Roberts gave to me. I carefully held out the bottle for the kid. Thankfully, he latched onto the teat and suckled rapidly, just like he was drinking from his own mother.


“You’re a natural, Jumilah. Have you need to hand-rear an animal before?”


“Well, we needed to feed Lowanna, the wombat, but she’s a bit different.” The kid finished off the bottle. “I’m sorry, mate, there’s no more.”


The kid bleated, but eventually settled down for the night. I took a moment to relax.


“Would you like a glass of water, Jumilah?”


Mrs Roberts accepted the bottle.


“Yes, that would be lovely, thank you.”


She poured me a glass, handing it over. I slowly sipped the cold liquid, pondering what the day, after the night, would bring. I finished my drink.


“If it’s alright, I might go to bed,” I announced with a yawn.


I stood.


“Goodnight, Jumilah.”


“Sweet dreams.”


I wandered down to my room, pulling the door across so that I could get changed. As I got into bed, I couldn’t help but think about the poor owl and whether we could have done anything to save the bird. Dwelling on the past, though, could not fix it. Scrolling through Instagram, I noticed a reel on the Zoos SA feed. One of the clouded leopards was swatting playfully towards the camera, then in the next clip, climbing deftly up one of the structures within their quarantine area. The male, called Lintang, pounced. He jumped up onto a platform holding bedding and food, in a room not dissimilar to where Kwabema had been held at Melbourne Zoo. Finally, Lintang rested, looking ever so cute. I was struck by the pattern of his coat. It almost reminded me of a reticulated python. Lintang chowed into some food. At least, I assumed that these clips were all of the same animal. Perhaps they were not, because I knew that Adelaide Zoo had imported four leopards altogether.


 

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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