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Optimistic

This morning I awoke before dawn. I rolled onto my side. Even though I didn’t have to go into work, I still needed to get up. Kelvin from Perth Zoo would be flying in with the lorises. I felt grateful not to have to travel to Perth. I’d been there once before, for Joel’s funeral, and I did want to go again in happier circumstances. Maybe if Malu breeds. I headed out to the macaques, letting them out for the morning. When I returned to the house, I prepared myself some granola for breakfast. I finished my food, before joining the bird TAG meeting. Cathy commenced the gathering with an acknowledgment of country, before passing over to Isaac, representing Melbourne Zoo.


“We’ve had a submission made to purchase birds from the Kalgoorlie Game Park.”


“Well, what do you think, Isaac?”


“Personally, this would be my view, I would feel a little bit reluctant about that,” Isaac noted, “but I understand if others feel differently.”


Silence was left for him to elaborate.


“Well, I mean, it sounds like a bit of an awful thing to say, but I don’t disagree with you.”


Don’s support was relevant, although Robin remained neutral in the discussion.


“Is this in regard to their refusal to become ZAA members?” Blessing checked.


“Well, yes,” Isaac confirmed.


“How do you feel about engaging with other private breeders?”


“Oh, it’s a slightly different scenario, I would say, but good point,” Isaac conceded.


“It is challenging considering they also house mammals.”


Blessing ran through the collection.


“Oh, I would love to be able to import another curassow. They’re beautiful, they are just beautiful birds.”


I’d never seen one in the flesh before.


“Would you like to add more bird species to your collection?” Robin asked me.


“Well, you tell me,” I replied, with a confident grin. “I know that we need to take things slowly.”


“Perhaps this is something which we could continue off air,” Isaac mentioned.


He smiled back at me. Jimmy entered the meeting late.


“Thanks for joining us.”


“Oh, there was something I wanted to raise,” Jimmy mentioned. “Kalgoorlie Game Park, which is a non-ZAA facility, has been housing flamingoes. We need to do something while we still can.”


I took a deep breath.


“Well, we’ve all had to make cutbacks. That’s the environment we’re in.”


Some zoos were responding to the challenging economic times through charging extra for particular experiences.


“What often happens is these places can’t expand. There simply isn’t enough money. Especially in relation to the flamingo colony, further importation is out of the question. Now the founders seem to have died off, they won’t be getting more. End of story.”


It may have seemed blunt, but I found myself silently agreeing.


“Alright.” A somewhat relieved sigh went around the meeting. “Let’s move on to something else.”


“Jumilah,” Jimmy spoke up warmly, “are there other bird species you would like to plan for at Acarda Zoo within the next twelve months?”


“That’s a good question, a lovely question, thank you.”


I smiled. For a moment my brain faltered – not wanting to correct him.


“Really, at the moment, we’re focused on opening in two weeks. We’ve got two aviaries – the finch aviary and the walk-through space for the lorikeets and the fruit doves. I would like to breed, if we’re able to.”


“Of course, you’ll have a breeding recommendation for the finches. You’ll have to see who pairs with who, but considering you’re a new holder, then we can work together to determine best husbandry practices.”


“Thank you.”


“You know, and I’m just spitballing some ideas, reed warblers might be a nice addition to your collection. What do you think about that?”


“In with the finches?”


“Yeah.”


To action that, we might have to modify the aviary which the finches currently reside in, to add more of a natural water feature, which the reed warblers would benefit from.


“That’s something to deal with in the new year.”


“Oh, for sure.”


“Alright, next item we have to cover before the end of the year,” Robin mentioned, “dangerous animal escape drills.”


“It doesn’t tend to happen with birds,” Sam pointed out. “Cassowaries, maybe, they would be the only birds we’d be worried about. We had a few close calls in the early days of our exhibit.”


This news shocked me more than I expected it would. I hoped to think that zoos themselves would be safe, but maybe I was living in a delusion that animals and people could live together peacefully.


“Anyway, we do have to devise and run drills,” Robin reminded. “Perhaps we should leave it up to each institution to devise a strategy and then report back in the new year.”


That sounded good to me.


“Maybe. We’ll have to see.”


We did need to come to a resolution. Fortunately, Robin put her foot down and the decision was made, allowing us to move onto the member reports.


“Ah, Maleny,” Robin invited, clicking her pen. “Good to see you, Narella.”


“Yeah, good to be back.”


It was nice to get to know others in the zoo world, outside of the main exotic mammal TAGs. Narella probably would have been in her late twenties. She hadn’t been at the conference, at least not that I could recall. A quick Google search informed me that Maleny Bird World was a relatively small park. They held a number of rare parrots.


“We would like to breed our Red-capped parrots.”


I thought this seemed like a splendid idea. It was nice of Narella to consult with the TAG.


“Well, is there anything standing in the way of you breeding?”


“No, although we’re down to the one male. Thankfully, we still have two females who are good genetic matches, although one may be too old to breed.”


“Alright, Melbourne Zoo?”


Isaac took himself off mute.


“Look, I have some correspondence from Melbourne Aquarium.”


It wasn’t a Zoos Victoria facility. Instead, it was owned by a conglomerate – and penguins had died there. I’d found out through the media about the disease outbreaks which had occurred at the aquarium. Of course, I didn’t mention it in the meeting and, thankfully, nobody else did. It would have seemed like a poor reason to stop them from joining the TAG.


“Oh, it’s not like penguins don’t fit under this TAG,” Isaac mentioned, “but, other than the native penguins, generally penguin holders don’t hold that many other bird species. If they want to come to the meetings, by all means, they can, but I wouldn’t hold it against them if they couldn’t be inclined to religiously turn up every Monday morning for a chat.”


A vote was held on whether to accept a representative into the TAG. I was pleased that it passed unanimously. It wasn’t really Isaac’s responsibility to act as Mayor of Melbourne.


“We’ll have to get you out there at some stage.”


Gerard popped into the meeting. It would have almost been the afternoon in New Zealand.


“I’m sorry that I’m late,” he apologised. “Operational matters.”


Gerard didn’t seem to be as chipper as he usually seemed. What he had divulged during the conference weighed on me. Gerard was given the opportunity to report from Auckland Zoo. Holding the only flamingo colony in New Zealand, I knew that he would have plenty to say on the topics we’d been discussing so far. It was raised, by Robin, that the Kalgoorlie flamingoes had been handreared when they had been imported, back in the day.


“I only have one problem with handrearing. The chicks far too often imprint on humans and then, when they grow, they don’t know what they’re doing. They think they’re humans. So, they won’t mate with their own species, which is no good for the breeding programs, which is not what we want, and I worry for the welfare of these birds if their caregivers need to move on.”


The debate couldn’t be easily settled. I wanted to be able to talk to Kakek about it. He’d surely have an opinion. The TAG concluded that they would look into acquiring birds from Kalgoorlie, although it wouldn’t necessarily be possible, considering many of them were elderly.


“Monarto Safari Park?”


“I just wanted to raise about your malleefowl records,” Robin pointed out.


Blessing checked the records.


“Yeah, sorry, that is an error. I’ll make sure it gets fixed up.”


“Thank you.” Robin smiled. “Taronga Zoo?”


“Next year, we’ll be working on a South American precinct,” Sam outlined. “For a start, we’ll get our Amazon parrot out of an aviary for Asian birds.”


“That’s generally good, from a zoogeographic perspective,” Isaac affirmed. “Where’s your Amazon parrot going to go?”


“At the bottom of the zoo. It’s in undeveloped forest below the former bull elephant paddock.”


“And how will you deal with animal impacts on the foliage when you build in that area?”


“Well, they’re birds, that’s what they do, they’re like all animals,” Sam pointed out, still putting the issue rather delicately. “We have to cope with that.”


“All good, fair enough,” Isaac responded.


“Do you have any updates on your native bird species?”


“Yes,” Sam confirmed. “We’ve introduced our male lyrebird into his own aviary space. Ideally, we would acquire a female for him to breed with--.”


“Do we want to increase lyrebird numbers?”


“Yes, that would be ideal, because they’re a very popular species with the public.”


“I’m not sure whether or not that’s the core reason why we should be breeding lyrebirds, just because they’re popular.”


“Well, there’s a native species, as well. Breeding native birds is part of our core mission, or if it’s not, at least it should be.” He cleared his throat, then glanced to the side. “Just a second, please.”


Isaac turned his video off. Robin decided to continue with the meeting, and once he did return on-screen, Isaac seemed to have nothing further to add.


“Wellington Zoo?”


“We’re receiving a pair of kiwi later in the week. They will go on display for at least the next few years, and we’re reopening our nocturnal indoor aviary for them.”


I pondered what other new species they might take on next year.


“Werribee Open Range Zoo?”


“Would you be interested in flamingoes, Des?” Angelique wanted to know.


In New Zealand, of course, it was less of a hypothetical question.


“Well, I wouldn’t say no, of course not.”


The bird TAG meeting came to an end. As I closed the lid of my laptop, I checked my watch. Considering that it was time, I wandered out into the zoo grounds to track down Mum.


“Are you ready to go?” I asked her.


“Yeah, let’s go.”


We took the truck out and drove towards the airport.


“What are you thinking about?”


I sighed softly.


“Actually, I was thinking about Christmas Day.”


“OK.”


“I know that things are different. We probably need to have Christmas at our place this year.”


“That’s alright with me,” Mum accepted.


We parked on the tarmac and I reached for my phone, thinking of sending a quick email to Narella. I fired it off swiftly and felt satisfied to have gotten at least one job done. I thought about the gorillas at Melbourne Zoo, thinking fondly of Kwabema. It would be later in the day that I could receive an update at the primate TAG meeting. Before long, however, the plane landed and we needed to launch into action, greeting our guests.


“Kelvin, how are you?” I greeted him, although we were familiar enough with each other for a hug.


“What are these, possums?” one of the airport staff enquired.


“They’re slow lorises, they’re primates, actually,” I explained.


I tried to peer through the gaps in the wooden bars of the transport crates.


“Sorry, I still think it looks like a possum,” he admitted.


“Fair enough.”


We drove the truck into our property and parked it as close as we could, then carried the individual crates into the back-of-house area behind the loris exhibit. There were no guarantees that the animals would adapt to their new enclosures, which filled me with trepidation. Buku, the older male, was first out into his exhibit. Having been hand-reared, he’s a very personable loris and was quickly up to the glass, peering out at us for a moment. Djuni quickly joined him. She raced from one side of the exhibit to the other, then scampered up a trunk. Together, they tucked into the food which we’d provided, to welcome them into their new home. I hoped these lorises would breed. Somehow, I felt like I owed it to Kakek, even though I knew deep down that I didn’t have full control over what the outcome would be. I felt a little ill within the pit of my stomach, but all three lorises settled well into their new enclosures, which I was thankful for. Our mission had been accomplished.


“Well, there you go.”


Kelvin took a step back.


“Would you like to come inside for a coffee before your flight?”


“Yeah, sure,” Kelvin agreed.


On the way, we stopped by the siamang island.


“We’ve got the three here, the pair Medan and Georgia, and their baby girl, Jelita, named after my grandmother, who was born in Adelaide.”


Thankfully, the moat seemed to be clear, allowing us to depart. Kelvin and I wandered into the house, through the back door. Oranges were on the counter, for feeding to the siamangs.


“Oh, sorry about that.”


I cleared them out of the way.


“We were just preparing for siamang dinner.”


“You know, I could do with a freshly-squeezed orange juice,” Kelvin mentioned, folding his arms loosely.


I glanced over my shoulder.


“Would you like me to make you one?”


Kelvin shrugged his shoulders.


“It’s no trouble.”


I blitzed up some juice in the blender, then poured it into a glass, handing the beverage over to Kelvin.


“Thank you, this is really nice of you.”


I noticed a hint of blush in his cheeks. We sat down.


“How are things going at Perth?” I enquired, although my heart was thumping as I anticipated the answer.


“It is much better. I understand why Joel wanted to leave.”


He sipped his juice.


“I just wish he got the chance.”


It seemed like a peculiar way of phrasing it. I hadn’t spoken in great detail with Kelvin before – at all, really – but particularly not about Joel’s death.


“Poor bloke.” Kelvin sighed. “We miss him so much.”


“Of course.”


I couldn’t help but think of Kakek. Both him and Joel had been lost to us within nine short months of each other. A part of me wondered whether Perth Zoo could ever recover.


“But, though, things are looking up. Next year could be much brighter.”


I nodded. A little bit of hope had never gone astray. I could imagine Nanek, smiling brightly, telling me in soft Bahasa to always have hope – harapan, harapan.


“And hopefully with the rhino pregnancy--.”


My eyes bulged. Kelvin looked like he’d seen a ghost.


“Oh, I don’t think that I should have mentioned that.”


“The one-horned rhino?” I gushed, although there wasn’t any other option.


Perth doesn’t hold a female white rhino.


“Well, that’s great news,” I assured, “although, I promise, I know that I’m sworn to secrecy.”


“Thank you.”


Kelvin finished his juice.


“Do you think that you would breed the white rhinos again?”


Kelvin shrugged.


“Really, I don’t think so, but possibly. Priorities seem to change all the time.”


I nodded.


“Well, my understanding is that Africa will be last. If we end up phasing out the elephants, then that space would be subsumed into the African savannah.”


“Right.”


This was news to me, yet it made sense – especially after the death of the breeding female. Of course, that would be a massive change for the zoo. I dropped Kelvin back to the airport, so that he could complete his journey, flying back to Perth and adding three hours to his twenty-four hour day. On the journey, I spotted wildlife by the side of the road, thankfully still alive – there was far too much roadkill around these parts.


“What’s on your plate for the rest of the day?”


“Well, I’ll be flying back to Perth.”


“Yeah, of course.”


That would take enough time, to be a satisfactory plan.


“It’s been good to get to see you,” I told Kelvin, my hand resting on the gearstick.


“Yeah, you too.”


He got out and walked into the terminal. I lingered for a moment, then I reversed and returned home to the zoo, a term which I’m still getting used to. Given it was the right time of the day, I joined the primate TAG meeting. We would be discussing husbandry for handreared animals, once they become adults and were given a breeding recommendation. One such animal was Ana, the female white-cheeked gibbon, whom I remembered when fondly from my time with them at Melbourne Zoo. A question mark still remained over her future and whether her partner, Oglivy, would be transferred to another zoo so that he could breed with another female, more likely to raise the baby.


“I still reckon that we should keep them together,” Reuben outlined, “and import another gibbon if we wish to breed. That’s all I’ll say.”


“I just wanted to mention, Peter, that I’ve received your application to become another holder of siamang,” I spoke up, once we moved on to the studbook reports.


He nodded his head.


“I’ll have a look at things and sort that out with you.”


“You should start first, Jumilah,” Christine offered. “What are your plans for 2023?”


“Well, hopefully we’ll be open, from Boxing Day. I’m not sure if our animal collection will change much. Hopefully the White-Handed Gibbons will breed, the young pair.”


“That’s wonderful, Jumilah,” Claire praised.


“Adelaide Zoo?”


“This year, we sent off many of our tamarin and marmosets groups to other zoos to allow for construction. We welcomed a baby orangutan, who was sadly stillborn. For a time, Adelaide Zoo housed a pair of siamangs from Sumatra, and during that time, the female Georgia gave birth to a healthy girl.”


It had been a big year for the zoo, upon reflection.


“2023, however, is possibly going to be an even bigger year, especially for primates. Our De Brazza’s Guenon family, which bred for the first time, a little unexpectedly, in May this year, already have a new home. We plan on welcoming gorillas back to Adelaide Zoo for the first time in fifteen years.”


“Have you registered with the EEP?”


“Yes,” Don confirmed to Reuben. “All we need now is for the exhibit to be ready, although there’s still a fair bit of construction to complete. I take it that we would be looking to import when the time comes, and I don’t have any objections to that, we’ve budgeted for that eventuality.”


“Auckland Zoo?” Christine invited. “What are your plans, Gerard?”


“Yeah, thanks Christine. We’ve had a good year this year. I’d say next year will hopefully be one of stability.”


“How about your Bornean Orangutan colony?”


“We would love to continue breeding,” Gerard testified. “Mawar’s pregnancy certainly brings us a lot of hope. With three breeding females and a large exhibit, we aim to breed up a large colony of Bornean Orangutans. In time, we would be willing to transfer to other institutions, whether in Australia or New Zealand. Cooperation would assist in keeping these animals locally.”


A chorus of nods went around the meeting. I felt like I was holding my breath for Julie’s report, following the gorilla birth. Before then, however, it was Reuben’s turn to provide his news for the week, as well as his plans for next year.


“It’s been a pretty smooth week here, I’m glad to say.”


He took a sip of water.


“Next year, there are no explicit plans for primates in our masterplan. We’re a little bit behind in terms of our plans for Treetop Monkeys and Apes, although our fire safety upgrades have been completed.”


“How are your young colobus pair going?”


“Well, they have been introduced and they have mated. We can confirm that. We’ll monitor Mapenzi for signs of pregnancy.”


“Is she trained for performing an ultrasound?”


“No, not at this stage, but it’s something which we can work on.”


“I have some resources I can pass on,” Don offered.


“Oh, thank you.”


“And what else is on your plate?”


“Well.”


Reuben took a breath.


“When the new female colobus arrives, she will be imported along with the founder group for Monarto. They will all quarantine here, and then the Monarto animals transferred once the new exhibit is complete.”


“And what’s the timeframe for that?”


“Early in the new year.”


I took a sip from my glass of water.


“And are there other zoos wanting to take on colobus?” Raffa asked.


“I really don’t understand why we’re even having this conversation,” Angelique admitted.


“I’m really not sure how taking that sort of attitude improves things,” Julie responded, taking no prisoners.


There was a somewhat awkward moment of silence to follow, nobody wanting to interject. I could hear the chirp of birds outside.


“Would you be interested in acquiring mandrill in the future?”


“Yeah, for sure,” Julie replied, “but I can’t make any commitments right now.”


With bags under her eyes, she seemed exhausted, the situation with the gorilla baby taking its toll.


“Thanks, Julie, that’s understandable.”


“I’m hopeful I’ll be able to get to the meeting on Thursday, so we can keep talking then.”


Julie left the Zoom call. Christine moved on to receive the update from Blessing, on behalf of Monarto Safari Park.


“First things first, I would like to announce the birth of a chimpanzee.”


I beamed, clapping my hands together.


“He’s a healthy young male, which is great news for our troop,” Blessing confirmed. “Doctor Jane Goodall will be responsible for the naming.”


I smiled, a fitting tribute to a legend of primatology.


“As Reuben touched on earlier, we will be receiving colobus again in the new year. The troop will go into a brand-new exhibit.”


“Perth Zoo?”


“We are behind schedule with our masterplan,” Jimmy conceded. “I won’t deny that. This has been a challenging year for Perth Zoo. Fortunately, though, there have been some bright spots, with the births of two orangutan infants. One male and one female are now on public display following their births in November.”


“And what’s happening next year?”


“Well, we’re planning for a new orangutan exhibit. There will be three outdoor and one indoor exhibit as part of that complex, and they’ll all be linked with each other, or at least have that opportunity.”


Jimmy sighed softly.


“The problem that we have, if you could call it a problem, is that the layout of the zoo is effectively remaining the same. That means we need to find alternative housing during the construction process, which is particularly challenging for larger species like the orangutans.”


“Where’s an open range zoo when you need one?” Reuben remarked.


“It would come in handy, that’s for sure.”


“Well, it’s not too late.”


Reuben narrowed his gaze, like he’d just had a brainwave.


“I recall you mentioned four exhibits. Don’t you currently have five?”


“Yes, that’s correct. There may be a need for transfers, but as the exhibits will be larger, we think it will be manageable, particularly given that, sadly, some of our individuals are quite elderly. We’re aware of the likelihood they will pass away within the next decade. We need to plan for both of these eventualities when considering the spaces we’re offering long-term.”


“Rockhampton Zoo?”


I noticed bags under Gilham’s eyes.


“Yes.”


He yawned.


“Oh, I’m sorry. It’s been a big week already.”


Being only Monday, it must have been.


“We’ve been working around the clock with the chimpanzee birth, making sure mother and baby are healthy.”


“Tasmania Zoo?”


“Our first group of ring-tailed lemurs have arrived and settled into their new exhibit.”


“That’s great that it’s all gone smoothly,” I praised with a smile.


“Are you looking for breeding females, David?” Claire wanted to know.


“I couldn’t imagine that at the moment. Anyway, I’m sure we’ll talk about that later.”


“Taronga Zoo?”


“Well, there’s a lot to say.”


Sam took a breath.


“First things first, we have four female chimpanzees off contraception.”


“Including Lisa?”


“Yes,” Sam confirmed. “Being off-contraception doesn’t mean that she’ll fall pregnant or produce a healthy infant. At her age, I would say that it’s more unlikely than likely, unfortunately.”


“There is a breeding recommendation, isn’t there?”


“Yes, there is,” Sam confirmed. “It would be ideal for Lisa to have another infant to provide support for her in her senior years.”


“Thank you, I was just checking.”


“Hopefully I’ll be talking to you next year and I’ll be letting you know that Lisa’s given birth and it’s a baby girl and both mother and baby are healthy, so we’ll see.”


I smiled. Sam pulled in his chair. I glimpsed towards the time in the bottom-right corner of the screen, but I intended on staying in the meeting until the end.


“I guess the biggest thing which I’d like to raise is that our management team have made some updated decisions on our South American area. In a few ways, this has been influenced by developments in the rest of the zoo and happenings which have taken place more broadly.”


I felt a little anxious, wondering what Sam was going to announce about the zoo’s future.


“The treetop boardwalk will be a Mini Monkeys area.”


“Copycat,” Reuben chided with a grin.


“Look, fair call,” Sam conceded. “We will be relocating our Cotton-Top Tamarins. As well, we will be seeking to acquire a further six species.”


“What’s happening with your gorilla troop?”


“Surely there would be a need for a bachelor troop for the young males, sooner rather than later,” Reuben supposed, even though the question had been directed towards Sam, “and maybe even a new silverback to ensure genetic diversity.”


“We haven’t said that we would just retire the male. It’s possible we could retire the non-breeding females as well.”


“What would that mean for Johari and her breeding plans?” Reuben wanted to know.


Sam cleared his throat.


“It would mean she wouldn’t breed.”


“Right.”


There was a moment of uneasy silence in the meeting. Perhaps that wouldn’t be the worst outcome, given the likelihood that she wouldn’t raise the baby, anyway.


“There are a number of other developments, potentially. We’ll just have to wait and see.”


I couldn’t help but wonder what Sam was keeping close to his chest, but I supposed that it wouldn’t have to do with primates. This was a time when I wanted to be involved in more meetings, in order to get the full picture of events. Now, I fear I wouldn’t have enough hours in the day.


“Taronga Western Plains Zoo?”


“My big news at the moment is that we’ve had another twin lemur birth,” Claire divulged. “Both babies are doing well, which is great, it’s really lovely.”


“That’s wonderful,” Christine praised. “Werribee Open Range Zoo?”


“Are you thinking of building a baboon exhibit out at Werribee?” Don wanted to know.


“Oh, that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?” Des responded, folding his arms as he grinned.


“We are, by the way,” Blessing mentioned.


“Oh, at Monarto, really? Would you move the troop across from Adelaide?”


“Yes, that’s the plan. There’s not space at Adelaide Zoo under the new masterplan for a baboon exhibit, so we can breed up much larger numbers if we move them out to Monarto, and accommodate bachelor males, too, if we need to.”


“Now, are we going to have a meeting next week?”


“Look, it’ll be the week of Christmas by then,” Don reminded. “I’m sure that all of us will be trying to get some sort of break at the end of this year, it’s been a big one. Merry Christmas, everybody. I’ll see you in the new year.”


The TAG meeting came to an end, so I closed my laptop. Just as I did, my phone tolled. Hunter messaged about the comms SAG. A part of me wanted him to stay far away. It’s easier if Hunter’s in Queensland and I don’t have to think about him at all – although, of course, I’m going to think about him. I managed to pass the afternoon away with tasks needing to be completed, especially paperwork. The evening arrived and Mum cooked dinner. We sat down to watch the evening news. It’s urban family legend that my grandparents learned English off the nightly WIN News. I wondered whether, once the zoo opened, there would be a story, and we would be the news – I suspected so.


 

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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