Updated: May 9, 2022
This morning, I woke up early. My heart remained heavy about Ratu’s sudden illness, but there was other business for us to deal with. I got up, had a shower and got dressed, then made breakfast, which I ate out on the back porch with a cup of coffee. While I tried to breathe deeply, the morning didn’t promise peace. We arrived at the council chambers, when the icy wind was swirling my curly hair. We’d gotten there so early that the front door was still locked. Therefore, we waited outside, by the pretty, lonely rose garden. A woman turned up after a few minutes. Her golden blonde hair rested on her shoulders, and she was rugged up in a black hoodie.
“Hey,” I greeted her. “Are you waiting to get into the council too?”
“Yes,” the woman confirmed with a determined smile. “Do you mind if I sit with you?”
“No, I don’t mind at all,” I told her.
I patted the wooden bench seat beside me.
“Thank you,” the woman said as she sat down. “My name’s Tanya, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you, Tanya,” I told her, “I’m Jumilah.”
Tanya tensed, then abruptly stood.
“Sorry, I mean, you might not be the same Jumilah, but there can’t be too many of you,” she rambled.
“I’m Jumilah Fioray,” I confirmed, leaning forward.
My fingers curled around the edge of the seat, as I stared undaunted into her eyes. Tanya took a deep, measured breath.
“I am here to protest against your zoo,” she revealed. “You shouldn’t be trying to build a zoo in the suburbs of Hobart, or anywhere, for that matter.”
“Alright,” I allowed, “but I am. Well, that’s the plan.”
“Can I ask you something?” Tanya queried.
“Yes, of course, anything,” I permitted.
“Why do you think you have the power to be so incredibly cruel to animals?” Tanya asked.
“I am not trying to be cruel to animals,” I answered. “I am trying to assist breeding programs that build up the numbers of this animals. Can I ask, have you reviewed the plans for what we are hoping to build?”
“Yes,” Tanya told me.
“This is just the beginning,” I spoke before she could. “Our animals were rescued from the pet trade. They were being targeted by poachers in their sanctuary in Indonesia. They have been moved to Australian zoos to save their lives, and then, hopefully, they’ll come here”.
Tanya gulped, and then the front doors of the council building opened. Katie showed us through into the meeting room. Bruce had already gotten us set up in a place where there were already more than enough chairs.
“I take it that you’ve already met one of the complainants,” she remarked.
“Yes,” I confirmed, trying to remain calm.
“I’ll bring her through.”
Of course, it was Tanya, whose eyes seemed to have dark shadows under them now. I know what these people want, they feel like they know what’s best for animals, and that’s to not have them in captivity. We’re really not that different.
“Alright, let’s introduce ourselves.”
“We’ve met before.”
“We met outside.”
“Thank you, Bruce, for organising this meeting. I have six key arguments which I would like to put forward to yourself and to Ms Fioray. Firstly, it is impossible for zoos to be able to provide animals with enough space.”
“I know that it’s not the same.”
“Secondly, animals die in zoos much earlier than they would in the wild.”
“I’m sorry, that’s not true. Animals are able to be kept alive much longer in zoos.”
“Thirdly, zoos kill animals which are surplus to requirements. Unwanted male offspring, in particular, are euthanised.”
“Look, that may have been true in the past--.”
“Fourthly, zoos continue to take animals from the wild. That’s true of some of the animals you want to bring to this zoo, isn’t it?”
“Well, yes, I suppose so, but they weren’t taken, they were rescued.”
“Fifthly, animals aren’t conserved by being in zoos. It’s pointless if there’s not being cared for in the wild.”
“Well, that second part is true, in-situ conservation is vitally important. That doesn’t mean that there’s no place for ex-situ conservation as well.”
“Sixthly, zoos don’t teach people about animals when those animals demonstrate unnatural behaviours because they are in an unnatural environment.”
“It’s very important to breed animals in captivity, especially if those animals are going to be in captivity anyway.”
“Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the two of you are ever going to agree about this. Thank you for your time.”
Tanya left the meeting room. I never would have said it, but we’re really not that different. We both care about wildlife, that’s for sure. I was still shaking when the second complainant entered the meeting room.
“Gavin,” I said under my breath.
As he sat down, he reached across and shook our hands.
“I take it that you know each other already,” Bruce remarked.
“Yes,” I confirmed, my voice high. “We’re neighbours.”
“You are allowed to use your property however you want. We know what happened last time--.”
“What happened last time?” Bruce wanted to know.
Dad and Gavin looked at each other, waiting for the other to blink.
“A fence came down in a windstorm, a few weeks ago. Some sheep got onto our property from Gavin’s property, it was fine--.”
Gavin furrowed his brow. I reached for my glass of water.
“It wasn’t fine. My sheep ended up on your property.”
“And they were returned to you,” Dad pointed out, “and my wife and daughter fixed your fence.”
“I have another point to raise. I’m concerned about pollution.”
“We’re not going to pollute your land.”
“Maybe at least not intentionally.”
“We’re not planning to damage the environment.”
I went to fold my arms in front of my chest, but I thought better of it.
Waving my hands around would have to do.
“Look, personally, I don’t know that much about building--.”
“I think that we’ve achieved all that we’re going to today,” Bruce acknowledged.
Gavin left the meeting room.
“So, may I ask, what happens now?”
“Well, on the council end, we will review all the submissions. We will then make a decision on the rezoning application. Those who have expressed their objections will then be able to appeal, as will you if or when we make the decision not in your favour.”
When we arrived home from the council chambers, I felt hungry. I quickly made myself a sandwich. As I shoved it into my mouth, I logged into the TAG meeting.
“You can watch in, if you like,” I mentioned to Mum, who was enjoying some rare reading time on the lounge. “It’s very interesting.”
“Alright, I’ll keep quiet and hear what they have to say.”
I joined the meeting.
“Hello,” I replied. “I’m just sitting here with Mum.”
“If your mother’s there, I’m sure nobody would mind if she joined in.”
I beckoned Mum over and she pulled up a chair. Once everyone had joined in, the meeting got underway.
“Thank you for joining us, and we have Catherine Fioray with us as well today.”
“Thanks for having me,” Mum responded.
“Today, we’ll be hearing from the committee investigating the establishment of captive colobine populations in New Zealand. Gerard and Reuben will be speaking to this one. I’ll hand over to both of you.”
“Thank you. A key recommendation, which has come from Sam, is that Taronga Zoo houses a number of young males currently, having been bred at the zoo. These animals are currently surplus to breeding requirements. We figure that these sort of things are best coming from the people who care for the animals themselves, so I’ll hand over to Sam.”
“We’re currently in the position where we will need to decide whether we contracept our male. If we’re able to place the young males elsewhere, then we will be able to continue breeding.”
“Are there spaces overseas for the offspring?”
“No, not at this stage. From my perspective, it would be ideal to place within the region.”
“We, in principle, would support the idea of breeding colobus and langurs in New Zealand. Our two concerns in relation to getting involved ourselves would be related to space and resources. I have a question for Reuben and Sam, especially with langurs, do you have elevated feed costs for those animals?”
“No, I wouldn’t think so,” Reuben answered.
“Auckland Zoo would be willing to set aside some exhibit space.”
“For colobus or langurs?”
“Both, although we’re looking to refurb the African area. Colobus could fit into those plans.”
“I would be willing to take on, say, two males here at Hamilton. We have a former siamang exhibit no longer in use.”
“I’d be more than happy with that,” Sam agreed. “You and I can be in touch and we can organise that transfer.”
“Perfect,” Christine commented. “Are we able to move on from that matter now?”
“I think that we can,” Sam confirmed.
“Good. I have an item of business,” Christine mentioned. “We’ve had a submission from the local children’s hospital here in Wellington. They would like an animal exhibit at the hospital for the patients.”
“And you’re thinking primates?”
“We have five young female pygmy marmosets surplus to breeding requirements. As studbook keeper, it would be my recommendation they move to the hospital and we supply the keepers.”
Nobody objected, nor did they say anything at all.
“Can we have a mover for that motion, please?”
“Yes, I would be happy to move,” Gerard agreed.
“Thank you. Do we have a seconder?”
“I can second that,” Reuben agreed. “We’ve had a similar program with meerkats at our local hospital.”
“I’d actually like to ask a question of Reuben about Hamadryas Baboons.”
“Do you anticipate that there will be surplus baboons available for new holders to come onboard within the next twelve months?” David wanted to know.
“Possibly. A match between our animals and those from Bungarribee would be the most genetically valuable within the region at this stage. This might seem like nepotism, but Werribee will be the next new holder.”
“Are there any other studbook reports? I feel like I would like to move onto the member reports.”
Thankfully, we were able to do that.
“On Thursday, we’re receiving two female baboons from Melbourne Zoo to join our troop.”
This hadn’t come up earlier.
“I’m thankful to Reuben for organising, given that this will be a massive help for our troop dynamics.”
“Altina Wildlife Park?”
“We have finally been able to confirm that our lemur infant is a male.”
“Yeah, thanks, Christine. I feel like I’ve done a lot of talking already today.”
“Christine,” John asked, “would Wellington Zoo be in a position to house langurs?”
The question seemed like it came a little late.
“Look, from my perspective, we really need to house between langurs and white-cheeked gibbons. If we could rehouse our white-cheeked gibbons elsewhere in New Zealand, or perhaps more ideally in Australia, then we would seriously consider it.”
I would be more than happy to house their white-cheeked gibbons. That didn’t mean that I said anything. It would have been premature, before we’ve even been able to rezone the land.
“Darling Downs Zoo?”
“Unfortunately, we had a death within our baboon group, one of the young females.”
“That’s a shame, do you know cause of death?”
“No, we don’t at this stage. Tomorrow morning our vet is going to perform an autopsy and hopefully we’ll find something to give us some answers. I know that she was recently mated by the male, I wouldn’t rule out an early pregnancy complication causing sepsis.”
“Gilead Wildlife Sanctuary?”
“There was a scuffle amongst our lemurs. Our female is pregnant so we took her to the vet and she’s there at the moment. They’re going to determine if the baby is still alive and will contemplate a C-section if she is.”
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Thank you, it’s unfortunate that it’s happened. Still, nobody’s fault.”
Angelique seemed kind of defensive. At the same time, she’s had a difficult run of things with this challenging lemur pregnancy.
“Well, I have an announcement that’s more related to my role as studbook keeper. We need to determine if the region is going to be continuing to keep Mandrills going forth. Are there any other zoos interested in coming onboard with the program?”
There was an awkward silence.
“Sorry to put you on the spot. I know that we’ve had plenty of discussions about acquiring new species so far today, so I’m willing to put that question into business to carry over to next week. Christine, I’ll hand back over to you.”
“Monarto Safari Park?”
“Sorry, just a second.”
Blessing put himself on mute, then removed his headphones, turning to speak with someone out of shot. When he returned to the camera, he was sporting a massive grin.
“We’ve got good news,” Blessing announced. “One of our chimpanzees has just given birth.”
Cheers went around the meeting.
“That’s fabulous news, mate.”
“Mogo Wildlife Park?”
“We’re placing our female Javan Gibbon on the market, so to speak. I’d rather that she breed. If we can’t place her within the region, there’s the possibility of sending her to the UK or America.”
“Alright, I’ll consider that as studbook keeper,” Bill promised.
“Orana Wildlife Park?”
“I have a question for Sam, Christine, in relation to gorilla bachelor groups. We would be the first group to be dispersed, I would gather, if a new silverback is needed.”
“It would depend on where the silverback is needed.”
“Yes, I understand that. I gather we would only be able to move one male on, anyway.”
“That would be best on welfare grounds, at least for the time being.”
“We do need to at some stage schedule a gorilla program review,” Sam noted.
“Yes, I would agree with that,” Christine asserted. “We’ll have to make time.”
“Nothing to report today.”
I leaned forward in my chair and took myself off mute.
“Bill, may I ask, any update on the dholes?”
“The dhole group have had their final tests. If they come back clear, we will be able to transport them to Sydney next Monday.”
“That’s good news.”
After the meeting finished, Tallulah called.
“Would you like to come to uni with me? I have a tutorial this afternoon. Honestly, I don’t think they’d object. My professor might not even notice.”
“Alright,” I agreed on a whim. “That sounds fantastic.”
Mum agreed that she could drive me into town, as she was going into the office for a little bit. As we got in the car, I checked my watch. There would still be enough time. My phone rang and I answered the call, from Claire.
“I’m so sorry that you needed to find out that way. I tried to ring you beforehand, but I couldn’t get through, but I’m really, really sorry.”
“I’m sure that you made sure that she was loved and cared for.”
Mum dropped me off at the uni campus. I called Tallulah.
“Hey, I’m here, where do you think that I should go?”
“Look to two o’clock,” she told me, and I pivoted slightly to the right, my nerves dissipating into a smile.
Tallulah hung up her phone, slipping it into her bag. I quickened my pace towards her, feeling more comfortable that Tallulah was with me, a calming influence amidst the bustle of the campus. She led me towards the building, a pro despite being a first-year student. I followed Tallulah into a group of people, which I presumed to be the rest of her class. The students shuffled into the tutorial room. It reminded me of a classroom at school, but brighter, with harsh lighting overhead. I tried to keep my head down. There remained the possibility they’d kick me out, but Tallulah reckoned it unlikely. The tutor was shuffling papers and tapping at his laptop at the front of the room, while the Rocky Horror soundtrack played. Once the seats were filled, he turned off the music and stood up.
“Welcome. As vets in the making, workplace health and safety ought to be your starting point. Therefore, this will be our starting point.”
He opened up an image on the screen.
“What are some possible hazards in this environment?”
Instinctively, I raised my hand.
“Yes, uh,” the tutor called upon me.
He checked the roll. My heart thumped within my chest.
“The dog could bite, there are potentially dangerous implements if not used properly. I gather that there ought to be procedures in place which would minimise these risks.”
“Well done, very well answered.”
I beamed towards Tallulah. Thankfully, she smiled back. Tallulah’s tutor seemed to check the roll for a moment, then he moved on. I didn’t contribute again for the rest of the class. It would have been a bit too bullish, although Tallulah proved herself to be a natural. I enjoyed the class, and learned a fair bit, too. Mum finished around the same time we did. She picked me up from the university campus in Sandy Bay and drove towards Tallulah’s place. Once her car was dropped off there, she came along for the ride with us, as her mother would collect her on the way back from a day at Port Arthur. I sensed that she was on edge.
“I’ve got two things to tell you.”
I nodded my head quickly.
“We’ve gotten in contact with Ibu. On Saturday night, she heard gunshots. The poachers returned, the same ones which Mohammed saw when we were near the airport.”
“Oh dear,” I muttered under my breath.
“It’s alright, Ibu’s safe, but we have been considering having her leave Binjai, at least for a few days.”
Both of us went quiet.
“What are you thinking about that?”
“I was thinking about the tiger and her cubs, actually. Do you know if they’re safe?”
“That’s exactly what your grandfather would have said,” Mum remarked, “and no, I don’t know, I’m sorry.”
“What’s the second thing?”
“The second thing is that there’s more rain on the way, apparently. Don’t worry, your party should be fine to be outside.”
“Alright,” I agreed, but I didn’t seem to care so much about that, anymore.
“Nanek’s going to be alright, isn’t she?”
“I hope so.”
My body still felt heavy, while I got out of the car. It wasn’t raining when we got home. Mum prepared a delicious dinner of vegetable skewers and rice. We decided to have it outside, to enjoy what is left of summer. Once we’d finished eating, Mum and Dad took the plates inside to wash up. I was grateful that, with Tallulah over, they didn’t expect me to help out. Of course that could be very easily manipulated, but there are plenty of hands around the house now.
“There’s something which I’d like to show you.”
Tallulah followed me out the back door. We walked through the dark, to the jacaranda tree.
“That’s so beautiful,” Tallulah gushed, upon spotting the lights.
“My uncle and I put them up.”
Tallulah and I lay down in the grass, underneath the jacaranda.
“Are you worried about your grandmother?”
“Yeah, I am,” I confirmed. “It might do her good, though, to spend some time in the south. Nanek’s children are all over the place. She can’t ever have all of them with her at once, save for an occasion.”
Tallulah brushed over the grass, with her fingers.
“You think that your grandfather was murdered, don’t you?”
“Well, he was. He was shot and killed.”
Tallulah didn’t respond. I shifted onto my side.
“Yeah, I know, that doesn’t mean he was deliberately killed.”
Tallulah’s mum came to collect her. I walked out onto the porch to say goodbye, then lingered for a moment as Bridie’s car drove away. I came back inside after bidding Tallulah farewell.
“Jumilah, are you not too tired to talk about your party on Sunday?”
“No, that’s fine.”
“I’ve invited people – Tallulah, obviously. Patrick, and the other people from your work.”
“Did you invite Sloane?”
“Yes, I did. Patrick told me all the people from your work to invite.”
“What are your thoughts about alcohol?”
“Well, it depends on what you think, really. I wouldn’t have a problem with not having alcohol.”
“I have a question for you,” I admitted, “about Nanek.”
“Do you think that she should come and live here with us, in Australia?”
“Jumilah, I couldn’t expect that of her. Her home is in Sumatra.”
“So was yours, once.”
“That was a very long time ago, Jumilah. I was young, I was eighteen, I decided to pursue my studies. There aren’t choices I would have made differently.”
Mum kissed me on the temple.
It’s hard to believe that it’s the end of summer, when it just seems like yesterday that I was finishing school and heading off to Sumatra and into the unknown. Getting into bed, I took a breath, said a prayer and then closed my eyes ready to rest. I haven’t heard anything more from Perth, about the baby elephant. As much as I want to call Charlotte to check, I am reluctant, feeling a sense of foreboding. Somehow, I managed to get some sleep.
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.