“Just make sure that you go to the toilet before you start any veterinary procedure,” Jamila advised. “It’s not like you can do a tree wee, and there are already enough smells in a zoo.”
“Fair enough,” I agreed with a nod of my head.
We raced out the door, piling into the car so that we could travel to my first full day at Werribee. As soon as we arrived at the zoo, I felt abuzz. I gathered with Whitlam and the ungulate team.
“Today, the vet will be darting Marnus, our zebra stallion, for a hoof procedure.”
The spring breeze ruffled my hair, so I tucked a wisp behind my ear.
“Bailey will be using ketamine. Remember, just one drop can be fatal. Do you have any questions?”
Nobody said anything.
“Alright, team, let’s get to work.”
Bailey arrived, with the dart gun. I shuddered just a little, but less than last time. Bailey fired, hitting Marnus’ rump first go.
“Nice work, Vet B,” Zola murmured, with an impressed smile.
Marnus started to become groggy and stagger around the paddock more slowly. Whitlam glanced towards his watch.
“Do you think we can go in now?” he checked.
“Yeah, let’s get a towel over him first, though.”
His footsteps not making a sound, Whitlam approached the fence. When Marnus got close, he threw over a towel. It covered the zebra’s eyes, allowing the vets to enter. Bailey marked where the dart had entered with spray paint, so that we’d all be aware of the need to not touch that area. We all helped to guide Marnus down onto the ground. After that, I didn’t really have a role, just to watch and observe – just as well. I thought of the hoof procedure which Thomas from Dodges Ferry had performed, on Hec’s mare. This seemed largely quite similar, ensuring that there were no stones caught, then trimming them down. Once the procedure was finished, Whitlam urged us out of the paddock. Marnus had been isolated, away from the savannah. As I retreated along with the keeper team, I checked over my shoulder. Giraffes and rhinos roamed around beyond us and the small, cordoned-off area. Some of the other zebra seemed to be patrolling, checking out what was happening, albeit remaining remarkably sedate. Bailey placed a syringe into Marnus’ black and white stripes, to supply him with the reversal drugs, then he departed the paddock to join the rest of us by the fence. We watched and waited, the towel remaining over Marnus’ face. Finally, he came to, shaking it off from his eyes as he staggered back to his feet. I breathed a sigh of relief, when Marnus was cantering around the paddock again. With that, he was allowed back onto the savannah. The vets departed, leaving Whitlam and I to pack up.
“Whitlam, how much longer do you think this is going to take?”
“Not too much longer,” he answered. “What, are you sick of this exciting work with ungulates already?”
“No, it’s just that I’m busting to go to the toilet,” I admitted.
“It’s alright, you go back,” Whitlam told me. “I can finish this off.”
I ran off but made sure to close all the gates behind me. As soon as I got to the first toilet block, I rushed inside. Sitting on the toilet, I figured that I should have taken the advice. Go to the toilet before you start a procedure, they said. Then you won’t get stuck weeing when you could have been learning, they said. Well, they didn’t actually say that. That bit was just implied. Once I’d finished, I flushed the toilet. I walked out of the cubicle and washed my hands. Stepping back out into the warm spring Werribee day, I shook my fingers dry. Jamila happened to be walking past. I couldn’t help but feel sprung.
“Hi, Jumilah, how was the zebra procedure?”
“Good. You know, I should have listened to you, about going to the toilet before the vet procedure. Lucky I got to the end, but then I had to run off while Whitlam was still packing up.” I breathed out. “Thank you, Jamila. I know that you’ve got my back.”
She nodded her head.
“We’ve always got to stick together.”
We noticed Hamish approaching, walking with haste with his head down. I strode out towards him. I’d been hoping to still join into the primate TAG meeting, if the opportunity arose.
“Oh, hi, Hamish, how has your day been?”
My smile faltered. I noticed that there was something off in his expression, not that I knew him well enough to truly be able to judge. Hamish looked up at us.
“Are you alright?” Jamila checked.
“Something’s happened at Perth Zoo. I think there’s been an incident with the tigers.”
Jamila and I followed Hamish back to the office. A number of the staff had already started to mill around, more than I would have expected for that time of the day. Tentatively, I approached Alex.
“Des is on the phone.”
Jamila took her hair out from her ponytail.
“I just hate not knowing,” she murmured.
“Trust me, sometimes knowing’s worse.”
When Des finished his phone call, he called the keepers together for an urgent staff meeting. The clock on the staffroom wall seemed to tick as loudly as ever, attracting a glare. It would have been about time for the primate TAG meeting, but nobody seemed bothered about that, now. My heart felt like it had leapt into my throat.
“There was an incident at Perth Zoo this morning. A keeper named Joel Donovan was in the tiger exhibit. Jaya, the Sumatran Tiger, must have gotten out of the night dens. He attacked the keeper.”
I held my breath.
“Sadly, Joel did not survive.”
“And the tiger?”
“The other keepers managed to get him away. Unfortunately, it was already too late.”
After a moment, I breathed out and blinked. I’d only been speaking with Joel less than forty-eight hours ago.
“Does anyone have any questions?”
“Do they know when they’ll be holding the funeral?” Jamila asked.
“No, not at this stage. We’ll be told when Joel’s family have made arrangements.”
“Has anyone told Isobel?”
I could feel others’ eyes hot on me.
“Isobel Carey from Adelaide Zoo,” I clarified. “She and Joel--.”
Discretion didn’t feel like it mattered anymore.
“They were engaged.”
“I don’t know,” Des admitted.
We broke away from the meeting, and I had to call Mum. Just as I was navigating through my phone, she was the one who called me, instead.
“Oh, it’s good to hear your voice,” I gushed, then wiped a tear away from my eye. “Um, did you hear--?”
“Yes, we did, it’s been on the radio,” Mum confirmed. “That’s so, so sad. You knew the young man, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” I confirmed. “I’d met Joel a few times. He was the one--.”
“Who brought the lion to Adelaide.”
Mum wouldn’t have met Joel then. It was just Isobel and I; my parents were with Nanek.
“Yes,” I spoke, my voice thin. “I didn’t tell you this, but Joel and Isobel, they were in love. They were going to get married.”
“Are you safe? The others are with you, I gather?”
“Yes, yes, they are. They brought us altogether to tell us, we’ll work the rest of the day and then I take it we’ll go home.”
I looked at Jamila across the room.
The glazed look in her eyes was unfamiliar and frightening to me.
“Make sure you take good care of yourself. I love you, Jumilah.”
Jamila took a step closer to me.
“I love you too, Mum,” I replied, then we ended the call and my hand dropped back to my side.
“That was your mother, I take it?”
“Yes,” I answered. “Have you called your family?”
Jamila shook her head.
“No, I haven’t. I should, though.”
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.