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Proud

With the exhibits finally finished, there was more money for plants, for Mum and I headed off to the nursery to bring back our next haul to plant out the zoo.


“It’s strange to think that we’ll be open in four days.”


“Yeah,” I agreed, my voice a little weak.

 

“Jumilah, is everything alright?”


“Yes, of course,” I assured her. “I’m just a little bit tired.”


“We’ll get used to the routine.”


“We will,” I assured, as we pulled into the carpark.

 

After Mum parked, we emerged and she locked the car behind us. We walked into the nursery, quickly bypassing the indoor section for the great outdoors.


“Are you alright, Jumilah? You seem a bit quiet.”


I offered a smile to allay Mum’s concerns.

 

“I’m not going around pining for Patrick, I promise you.”


“So, it’s Hunter Clinton you’ve got the hots for?”


“Well.”


Mum flashed me a grin.

 

“Did you ever have feelings for Reuben?”


Mum breathed out. I felt a pang of guilt for asking.


“Truth be told, when we very first met, he was the one I found the hottest, not your dad, but--.”


She pulled a face, like she was trying to find the words.

 

“He wasn’t the one you ended up with.”


“Yeah,” Mum agreed.


I tried to read her, perhaps not wanting to know more than what I’d already uncovered. If Mum was dissatisfied with the arrangement, she could have divulged that, and she didn’t. We happened upon a melati putih plant.


“These remind me of my wedding day,” Mum remarked with a grin.


I was tempted to pick a flower and place it in her hair, but I wasn’t sure whether that would attract the ire of the nursery workers.

 

“Oh, how do we possibly decide which one we want?”


“That’s alright, we’ll get them both.”


“Are you sure?”


“Yes, I’m sure,” Mum confirmed, so we bought them both and packed them into our car.

 

We returned back to the zoo from the nursery, where Dad emerged from the gate. He helped us take the plants in, stashed at the back door.


“We’ll have a bit of lunch first.”


Stepping inside, we took respite from the hot day outside. While we prepared sandwiches, I could hear the macaques in their exhibit. I was still getting used to the actual presence of the animals. We ate a quick lunch, then it was time for some gardening. As we planted the shrubs, the scents of the flowers reminded me of my mother’s country of birth, my grandparents’ homeland.

Mum, Dad and I stepped back. I felt a little bit thirsty. Therefore, I took the opportunity for a drink of water. Breaks were few and far between. I found myself still keeping an eye on the macaques. It felt surreal to have such beautiful animals in such close proximity. A scuffle amongst them sent me running. Thankfully, it quickly settled down. When I returned inside, I called Tallulah back. There was a missed call from her waiting on the screen of my phone, from when we were out doing the gardening.


“I’ve just been doing some Christmas shopping at Eastlands,” Tallulah mentioned.


“Nice.”

 

“Oh, have you seen the news?” I hadn’t.


I turned on the television and sat on the lounge, a little hunched over.


“This announcement today does not change my loving relationship with my wife, Cara. Cara and I are committed to our marriage. We are committed to raising our son.”

 

My lips slipped apart.


“I have now.”


Turned out one of the players, Luke Morgan, on the team with Jye and Kyle, had come out as queer, becoming the first male Australian cricketer to do so. The news continued to the next story, about a man dying of a heart attack in the main street of the CBD, which was really quite depressing to think about. We needed to make sure that we had access to a defibrillator at all times within the zoo grounds. I reached for the remote and turned off the television.


“Are you still there?” Tallulah checked.

 

“Yeah.”


“Good on him,” Tallulah said. “Vanessa hadn’t mentioned anything to me. I think it’s really good that they’re staying together. It’s the best thing for their little boy.”


I thought it to be an interesting perspective, coming from her. Tallulah was raised without a father. I didn’t think that she wanted for anything, but maybe I just hadn’t released that she felt differently. Tallulah and I ended our call. Given the heat of summer, I pondered heading to the fridge to a soft drink, savouring the bubbles as they fizzed down my throat. I ran through the tasks which needed completing, but I didn’t achieve any in the meantime. I joined the carnivore TAG meeting, feeling more tired that I would have liked. This would inevitably be the last meeting for the year, and I was a little bit surprised that they were even having one.


“Today, we’ll be discussing chronic kidney disease in captive felids,” Jimmy announced, “and running through our plans for next year, briefly, in relation to carnivore programs.”

 

He started sharing his screen.


“As many of you will be aware, a number of our institutions have been involved in a study over the last few years. We’re joined by Ivy Mikhael from Taronga Zoo who will summarise her findings.”

Ivy’s grin popped up on the screen.

 

“Hello, thank you so much for having me.”


“I’ll let you control the slides.


“Thank you.”


Ivy clicked on to the next set of images, photographs of fishing cats, Sumatran Tigers, and cheetahs.

 

“Please feel free to ask questions at any time,” she urged. “It has long been hypothesised that CKD is a health issue facing captive felids. Effective treatment has the potential to prolong life expectancy. Therefore, I have been studying captive felids for the last three years. I have identified four stages of CKD.”

 

Reuben entered the meeting late. I was a little surprised, thinking that it would be Emmie as had been the case since Monica went to Adelaide. Then, I remember she’s on leave. Emmie and Vel have taken a belated honeymoon to the Philippines and Ireland, to spend time with their families.


“Sorry, I’m late,” Reuben apologised. “It’s been a dramatic day.”

 

“I presume that animatronic dinosaurs don’t count within the remit of carnivores,” Des quipped.


“It’s actually Nyani, our gorilla, she’s unwell.”


That placed a sombre note over the meeting. I couldn’t help but wonder whether maybe Nyani was actually, finally pregnant. Nonetheless, Ivy resumed her presentation. She changed slides.


“I suppose that it is sort of like a pregnancy test,” Ivy agreed. “It’s no more challenging to use than the ones humans buy from the chemist, and it just has a slightly different purpose.”


She demonstrated by playing a video of performing the test.

 

“Ivy, do you think this sort of technology could be used beyond carnivores?” Christine wanted to know.


“Yes, it’s quite possible,” she confirmed. “So far, our trials have been focused on carnivores due to the high prevalence of kidney disease. I suspect in most primate species, there would be human medical technology which would be effective.”

 

“A simple test would be great, though,” Reuben affirmed.


Ivy finished her presentation and pushed her black curls back from her taupe cheeks.


“So, where are the breeding recommendations going to be?”


“Well, whatever you tell us,” Gerard quipped, then sat back in his chair. “I’m only joking.”

 

“Breeding at both Taronga and Hamilton would be ideal,” Ivy outlined. “This would allow other zoos like Melbourne to come on board.”


It seemed like a good idea. I knew Tessa would have loved it for Hamilton Zoo to finally breed fishing cat, after many years of trying.

 

“Alright, this is going well so far,” Jimmy declared with a smile. “Let’s move onto the member reports.”


I found myself grinning as well. It had been good to reconnect with Ivy and I knew that we could be first cab off the rank.

 

“Adelaide Zoo?”


“Our immediate priority is to move down lionesses from Monarto to pair with Mwenyezi, and hopefully a breeding recommendation and cubs will follow.”


“You’re moving the 2019 litter, aren’t you?” Sam checked.

 

“Yes, the two females, that’s the plan.”


It sounded fair enough to me. From memory, there had originally been four cubs in that litter. We would just have to wait and see to determine whether or not Mwenyezi would prove himself to be a successful breeding male.

 

“Well, I’m happy to grant the breeding recommendation,” Sam said. “You can choose how you manage breeding from the two females.”


I was a little surprised, as their brother was likely to head up a breeding pride, too.


“Auckland Zoo?”

 

“We’re looking to build an African rainforest complex at some stage, although at the moment we’re not sure where we’re going to put it.”


“There aren’t really any carnivores for that theme,” Jimmy mentioned. “At least, not any currently in the region.”

 

“Well, my friends, you might just have to wait and see what we can source from Europe.”


“Our Sri Lankan Leopards are part of the EEP,” George reminded. “Any zoo which wants to participate needs to become a member.”


“As we’re finding out with the Brazilian Tapir program,” Raffa mentioned.

 

“The ungulate TAG can deal with that in the new year.”


“Yes, of course they can,” Gerard agreed.


“Beerwah?”


“We’ve chosen names for our four female Sumatran Tiger cubs.”

 

All things considered, Willow, Ivy, Dorothea and Marjorie weren’t too bad. I pressed some hair back from my face.


“We have also earmarked a site for getting the cheetahs on display, and that construction will hopefully commence in the new year, for an exhibit for males.”

 

This was welcome news. I knew that the zoo had suffered plenty of setbacks along the way. Having cheetahs on public display would hopefully bring in the crowds over the school holidays and help to make the place more financially sustainable. Hunter shared his screen for a brief moment, so we could see photos of the new exhibit.

 

“I also wanted to raise the possibility of the region participating in a captive breeding program for Bengal tigers,” Hunter mentioned.


“At the end of the day, it’s best that we work together,” Monica insisted. “We’ve seen that, for the most part, with Sumatran Tigers.”

 

I felt conflicted.


“The issue with that would be that, at this stage, Bengal Tiger captive breeding is taking place in India. That’s their natural range and, in my opinion, it’s best if they stay there, as long as they’re breeding well.”

 

I was reluctant to import animals from the wild unless we absolutely had to. While I wanted to trust Hunter, I was privately glad that the TAG decided that they wouldn’t pursue the idea.


“Ballarat Wildlife Park?”


The owner divulged a near-escape by one of their tigers. A young guest had prized apart the wire.


“I didn’t realise it was so serious.”


“You should have.”


I expected a conflict.

 

“All in all, there’s no problem. There wasn’t any injuries. The main thing I want to talk about is a breeding recommendation.”


“That’s fair enough. I know it’s been something you’ve been wanting for a long time.”


However, the breeding recommendation wouldn’t be granted as requested. I didn’t enjoy tension. Ivy was on mute, but I didn’t think this was the best display in front of her, of what the carnivore TAG was usually like. We’d all been through a lot this year after what happened to Joel. It was horrific to think that we could have had another tragedy, so I tried to push that aspect out of my mind, even though I feared I was burying my head in the sand.

 

“Well, we do have plenty of other babies, with the meerkats and the cotton-tops. I know they’re from another TAG--.”


“That’s alright.”


“We do have to report that one of our male otters has died. It’s been recorded in the studbook.”

 

“Mogo Wildlife Park?”


“We’ve just had a litter of meerkats born.”


It had been a long and difficult year for everyone. Having something to celebrate was always much appreciated.

 

“Monarto Safari Park?”


Julie wanted to check which groups the hyaenas were divided into, providing examples from her records.


“Yes, the hyaenas are still in those groupings. The intention would be to breed one more time.”

 

“As well as breeding from Kanzi?”


“Yes.”


“You’d think you’d have to, because she’s the only young female you’ve got, and they’re founders,” Julie mentioned, “but are you happy with that, Blessing?”

 

“The female hyaena has a pseudo-penis through which she gives birth, so it’s actually reasonably difficult to sex the infants just by sight,” Blessing explained.


“Well, aren’t you lucky you’re not a hyaena?”


Safe to say it was a complicated situation. It wasn’t my place to judge.


“Perth Zoo?”


“Nothing for us today,” Jimmy responded.


“Werribee Open Range Zoo?”

 

“Something boring to start off with,” Des mentioned. “We need to update the power supply to our electric fences.”


It was something worth considering. At least our facility was built to all the modern standards, whereas older infrastructure would need updating. The suggestion was made they could apply for grants. A shiver went over me. It was crucial for the safety of humans and animals alike that the safeguards in place in order to protect both groups were working well, otherwise they were of little value at all, especially after what had taken place at Perth Zoo.

 

“We would consider importing hyaenas. I know that San Antonio Zoo is one of the prolific breeders in the US and could be an option. We have a number of representatives from Singapore, but as far as I’m aware, the Texan animals aren’t related to the Singapore bloodlines, so they would be genetically valuable.”

 

This was another matter which could be handballed into 2023.


“On a happier note, one of our keepers is getting married next Thursday to a keeper from Melbourne.” I knew Des was referring to Ella and Alex. “Thankfully, Healesville and Kyabram are going to help us out with staff.”

 

Once I left the meeting, I sent a quick text message to Ara from Melbourne Zoo, letting her know that I’m still keen on tapir.


Any other species?; she soon replied, followed by an emoji poking its tongue out.


We’ll just have to wait and see

 

I walked along the visitor path, the nocturnal house casting a shadow. When my phone beeped again, I thought that it was going to be Ara. Instead, though, the texter was Reuben.


I’m going to give you a call later if that’s all good


I told him that Nanek was coming, but I would have time to talk, then I heard from Ara.

 

Hunter Valley is keen, so is Melbourne.


The three dots appeared almost immediately after I received the message.


Not that I’m going to be an authority on what’s happening at Melbourne for much longer.


The announcement caught me off-guard. I didn’t want to ask, but the three dots appeared before I had the chance.


I’ve taken a new role at Kyabram.


Whilst it was somewhat unexpected, I smiled, happy for Ara retrieving a new opportunity.


That’s great!

 

I returned to my house and put my phone away in my bedroom, so that I would be undistracted while helping Mum prepare dinner. After we ate, it would be time to go and collect Nanek. The anticipation made my body feel a little shaky with excitement.


“What have you been up to this afternoon?”

 

“I’ve been talking to Ara about tapirs,” I answered while I chopped.


“Oh, right,” Mum replied. “You’re really keen about that, aren’t you?”


“I know that we can’t expand right way. Still, Ara told me that Hunter Valley’s keen. Melbourne already had a Malayan Tapir and she’s still young enough to breed.”

 

“In the future, I suppose that we could do a little African savannah exhibit, if we’re not wedded to just Sumatran and Tasmanian species.”


“We already have non-Tasmanian species.”


I removed glasses for the three of us from the cupboard. Once I’d poured water, I distributed the drinks. I thought that we all needed a moment just to recalibrate and calm down. We finished off the water, then left for the airport to collect my grandmother. My pulse accelerated along with the car down the highway. Thankfully, her flight had arrived and we were able to greet Nanek with open arms, to take her home with us. It seemed a little surreal to have her in our car. Nanek told us that it had been raining heavily when she left Sumatra, and her plane almost didn’t get off the ground. I clung to her in the back seat of the car, until we returned home and parked in the freshly-gravelled zoo carpark. Nanek emerged into the Tasmanian night. She remarked that the stars were spectacular. I wasn’t sure exactly how Nanek would respond to the enclosures. While they could have been considered more state-of-the-art than the sanctuary’s cages, they weren’t constructed within the natural jungle. As long as Nanek was satisfied that animal welfare was optimal, then I could finally breathe out. Now that the animals had moved in, the place had adopted a smell which I sensed would never leave these lands. I didn’t find it unpleasant, although I understood why others might have done. We tried to keep the facilities clean as much as possible, but nature would still take its course. From there, we returned inside. Mum continued preparing dinner, while Nanek started making green tea. She asked me what other animals I’d like to take on once the zoo was open.


“We’re just taking it one day at a time,” I assured.


My grandmother, however, had other ideas. Her children seemed all cut from the same cloth. Nanek was keen on the idea that we could use our vast land for an elephant herd.


“You know, there is a possibility you could retain bulls. I will share with you some literature.”


“That would be wonderful, thank you.”

 

While there would always be work to do, it was good to be able to settle in with my family. I beamed. Nanek had settled right in and was sharing her opinions with the fervour I remembered from Kakek in my youth. Glancing across at Mum, I noticed she seemed to be holding back. Before I had the chance to say anything, my phone rang, and I mentioned Nanek’s plans to Reuben. I was starting to hope for the idea of having a large elephant herd.


“I appreciate where you’re coming from, but that’s never going to happen,” Reuben told me.


Swallowing, I knew it wasn’t the reason he called, so I decided to remain silent until he divulged whatever it was that he wanted me to know.

 

“Nyani is pregnant,” Reuben confirmed.


“Oh, that’s brilliant news.”


“Yeah, it is,” he agreed. “Perhaps we would have liked one of the other females to conceive first, to give Nyani experience with an infant.”

 

“None of the females were on contraception, were they?”


“No, we didn’t put any on contraception, because we wanted to achieve a pregnancy in the short-term, rather than trying to stagger things before we even had a baby on the ground.”


“Would you consider AI?”

 

“I’m not sure,” Reuben admitted. “At the end of the day, we do need to decide. I’ve got a meeting in the morning with Lina and Meredith.”


“Well, all the best with that,” I wished. “Has anything else been happening with you?”


“Oh, not much,” Reuben answered. “Hopefully it’ll be a quiet end to the year.”

 

“Here’s hoping.”


We ended the call and I returned to where Mum and Nanek were chatting in the loungeroom. I quickly picked up the substance of their discussion – when we were going to start breeding the animals, other than the siamangs.

 

“Mawar isn’t contracepted and she’s sexually mature, paired up with a male,” I outlined. “Before too long, she should conceive.”


Mum nodded and sipped her water.


“We’ll have to keep an eye on her vitamin D levels.”

 

“Yeah, of course.”


Nanek said that the two gibbons are unrelated, as much as she can be sure considering that they’re both wild-born.


 

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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