“Have you pulled up alright?” Whitlam checked.
“Yes, sir,” I responded.
I patted one hand over my head to secure a few wispy, stray hairs.
“We’ve got an import coming from the UK today, don’t we?” I checked.
“Yes,” Jamila confirmed. “We have two male hunting dogs arriving. Their keeper, Kane, will be joining us for the day.”
“That sounds great,” I affirmed.
Jamila drove us to the zoo. The truck was already there, met by Des by Werribee’s wildlife hospital and its adjacent quarantine facility. A blonde man stepped down from the cabin, wearing the uniform of Chester Zoo. As he walked over, I felt the rate of my pulse increase. I could hear the wild dogs in their crates in the truck, and I knew that time would be of the essence to offload them.
“Kane Aldridge, good to meet you.”
“Des Perry, director of Werribee Open Range Zoo,” he introduced himself. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Kane.”
“I wanted to say, we’ve heard about the keeper who was killed. We’re so sorry, that’s an awful tragedy.”
“That wasn’t here, that was at Perth Zoo,” Des pointed out, “but thank you all the same. Many of us knew Joel and attended his funeral.”
Kane nodded his head solemnly.
“I’m Jamila, and this is Jumilah. You’re allowed to mix us up once, and then I expect you to remember.”
“All good, I’m sure I can rise to the occasion.”
“Good. Let’s get these dogs offloaded.”
We donned gowns, gloves, hairnets, masks and gumboots, for quarantine purposes. A forklift offloaded the crates from the truck, shifting them into the indoor area. All hands on deck, we raised the slides. Keepers watching, the dogs sauntered into their quarantine surroundings, with no cause for alarm.
“Job well done,” Kane surveyed.
He turned to me.
“How long have you been here for, Jumilah?” Kane wanted to know.
“Not long, only a couple of weeks.”
“Nice,” Kane replied. “Is this your first zoo job?”
“Jumilah’s here on work experience,” Jamila supplied.
“Would you like to take a tour?” Jamila offered. “I understand you’ve got the rest of the day with us.”
“Sure, that would be great,” Kane accepted. “Yes, you’re right, my flight doesn’t leave until later on today, not that I have an excellent sense of time at the moment.”
Jamila and I led Kane through the walking trails of Werribee Zoo, first. He paused before the gorilla exhibit.
“How marvellous,” Kane remarked. “You’ve got the three males.”
“Yes, transferred from Melbourne earlier this year.”
All three were eating close to the front of the exhibit.
“There aren’t gorillas at Chester, are they?”
“When I was a little kid, there were, but not anymore.”
Kane scuffed his shoe to brush off a little bit of mud which he must have acquired since his arrival at Werribee.
“Nah, chimpanzees and orangutans are our great ape species. We breed both the Bornean and Sumatran Orangutans, so I suppose we do have three, all in all, but not the gorillas, unfortunately.”
“That’s incredible,” I gushed, “to have both orangutan species at the same zoo. Here we don’t even have both in the same country.”
“You’ve only got Sumatrans, am I right?”
“Yes, in Australia,” Jamila confirmed, “and there is one colony of Bornean Orangutans in New Zealand, at Auckland Zoo.”
She learned forward a little.
“Is that right, Jumilah?”
“Yes. That’s right.”
We moved on towards the arid areas, oryx and camels in the distance. Jamila grinned at the sight of the cheetah.
“This is Kulinda.”
She got up from where she had been lounging in the shade and started padding towards us.
Kulinda finally lay down in the long grass.
“She’s our last cheetah at the moment, but we’re committed to the species long-term, I’m hopeful.”
“You know, we’re only down to one as well.”
Jamila nodded sympathetically.
“We’re developing a new African grasslands area, construction’s just starting,” Kane outlined, “so once Kulinda passes on, we won’t replace her sadly until that’s open with a new exhibit.”
We lingered at the cheetahs for a moment, before Kulinda retreated to the shade, out of view.
My eyes panned over the grass. For a moment I thought that I spotted some movement, not a cheetah. I froze, concerned about a snake. My shoulders hunched.
“What’s the matter, Jumilah?”
I heard the drone of a plane overhead, and realised my error. Jamila took us across the path.
“This is where our servals are,” she explained. “They’re not on regular public display.”
Kane grinned as he followed Jamila, while I held the gate. As I trailed after him, I made sure it was locked behind me. We walked down into the serval area. The girls leapt on the other side of the glass.
“There are serval presentations twice a day.”
Behind us was a public seating area. The concrete steps were covered by an awning.
“Right,” Kane responded.
He appeared a little distracted. Perhaps serval presentations weren’t his cup of tea.
“Which other species would you like to add to the zoo?”
“Well, we do have a masterplan--.”
“I didn’t mean the masterplan. What do you think, personally?”
A hint of pink crept into Jamila’s cheeks.
“I agree with most of it, for what it’s worth,” she answered, then folded her arms in front of her chest and appeared to ponder. “Moving the elephants across from Melbourne will be a big change, but it’s the correct move.”
“How about I ask you a few questions?
“Would you consider housing bongo here?”
Jamila rolled her lips.
“I mean, you’ve got plenty of space,” Kane pointed out. “We breed bongo, we actually breed both bongo and okapi, back home.”
I could hear hooves across the zoo, and a sound almost like trumpeting. The noise reminded me of an elephant, although that was just an illusion.
“I mean, it would be great if you could build up a large herd here. You seem to have the space for that.”
Kane gestured towards the plains in the middle of the zoo, behind the gorillas. I leaned forward. Jamila led Kane and I out of the serval area and back onto the public paths.
“It’s a good idea.”
We left the serval area, and Kane asked me about my plans for the zoo.
“We’re starting relatively small,” I explained. “There will be eleven species all up, across birds and mammals, and fauna from Australia and Sumatra, which is where my mother grew up and where my grandmother still lives.”
Kane nodded his head as Jamila led us in the direction of the hippos. I thought that I could hear grunting in the distance, potentially a rhino. Perhaps one of them had made the trumpeting sound I’d heard earlier, too, rather than an imaginary pachyderm. I started to smell the nearby lions. It was a more pleasant, earthy scent, than the wafting of the hippos’ excrement.
“This is our Kubu River hippo complex,” Jamila announced. “We’ve just welcomed a new calf. Unfortunately, our breeding bull passed away during the pregnancy.”
We glanced over the hippo exhibit.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Kane responded, his shoulders drooping a little.
The calf emerged with her mother. She stayed at Primrose’s feet, both of them remaining out of the water. We all smiled at the cute sight. After the difficulty of the birth, it was precious to see the baby girl thriving.
“Jamila, does the zoo own that waterway over there?”
She shook her head.
“Ah, nah, that’s the Werribee River. It does run through the zoo, though.”
While we were at the exhibit, I took the opportunity to record an observation on the whiteboard, before returning to the others.
“Will you be able to acquire another breeding male?”
“Probably not for the moment, to be perfectly honest. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but there’s a ban on importing most ungulates.”
“There is a breeding male at Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo. They have a female he’s paired with up there. So, he’ll stay there.”
We moved onto the lion exhibit – a carnivore species, after all, under Jamila’s care. I noticed Kane startled at the Jeep, bisected by the pane of glass, one of the lions sound asleep on its bonnet. As the tawny fur rose and fell, we had nothing to worry about. The view from the window looked over a remarkable vista. Kane finally beamed. There were lions at Chester Zoo, although Asiatic – not African – Lions, and long non-breeding.
“You’ve got a pride, don’t you?”
“Yes, we breed lions here, African Lions,” Jamila confirmed. “They haven’t bred at Melbourne Zoo for almost twenty-five years.”
From the lions we started ambling in the direction of the Werribee River, where Jamila tracked down a vehicle and we climbed inside. I thought more about African rainforest species. Colobus could be housed at Werribee, to support the population at Melbourne, or the other way around. They weren’t the only potential primate species – maybe lemurs, or even chimpanzees. Jamila drove out onto the savannah. She motored along pretty slowly, and I caught her gaze in the rear-vision mirror. Kane wound down the window.
“Have you thought about flamingoes here at all?” he queried. “They’d look absolutely spectacular here.”
“They would,” Jamila agreed, “but we can’t.”
Kane tilted his head.
“Bird imports have been banned for over twenty years.”
Jamila pulled up the ute and turned off the ignition. A rhino placidly ambled towards us, and I didn’t feel afraid of him.
“This is Leroy, our breeding bull. We’ve paired him up with two cows, but we haven’t had any luck so far in terms of a pregnancy. Leroy’s sired a calf before. Kifaru’s now a young bull and we transferred him onto New Zealand a couple of weeks back.”
From there, we drove back, out of the animal habitat. Beyond the fences of the savannah is the night holding for its residents. I could smell the droppings as Jamila dropped us off. My nose crinkled up, then Kane and I turned the corner. At the very least he would be able to see what sort of night holdings we were able to have in Australia, where even in Tasmania I wouldn’t have to worry about snowy, freezing winters. As Kane and I explored, we encountered Zola.
“Kane, great to see you.” They greeted each other with a hug, then she addressed me. “Good to see you too, Jumilah.”
“I’m just about to start a training session with our giraffes.”
We decided to stay around and watch. I was keen to learn more about ungulate care. Zola got set up for the session.
“This is Jandamarra, one of our older males,” she introduced as she led him into the crush.
I know that we don’t call it a crush. That’s what it’d be called on a farm, though.
The giraffe lifted his foot accordingly.
Once the training session was complete, Zola stood.
Jandamarra reached his neck down, and Zola gave him a loving scratch on his muzzle.
“He’s a good boy, this one. He’s been with us since he was eighteen months old.”
She stepped back from the barrier. Zola hoisted up some willow branches for a midday snack. While the giraffes satisfied themselves with food, we exited the back of house area.
“You’ve got quite a good breeding herd over at Chester--.”
“Yeah, we do, but we don’t have wide open spaces like this.”
“You’re not going to get an argument from me.”
Zola bid the three of us farewell, allowing us to pile back into the safari vehicle.
“I’ll have to take a few pointers home,” Kane mentioned, as we circled back towards the zoo’s walking trails. “Zola does a great job with training the giraffes.”
I sat forward in my seat.
“Have you visited any other zoos in Australia?”
“Would you believe this is my first one?” Kane answered, over his shoulder.
“Well, I have never met you before today.”
“Look, I’ve only recently been promoted. These across-the-world journeys are rare.”
Jamila stopped on the other side, near the entrance. Faintly we could hear construction noise.
“That’s the elephant development, and the waterhole precinct.”
“You know, sitatunga swim.”
“Oh, they haven’t confirmed which species are going to be housed there. Ideally, it would be Asian species, to fit in with the elephants, but Werribee does have quite the African focus.”
“We had congo buffalo when I very first started here, but not anymore.”
“Can I ask, please, how did that happen?” Kane enquired. “Did they all die of a similar cause? Was your zoo board too pig-headed to let you breed them? Or was it these import regulations I keep hearing about?”
“Oh, I think in the case of the buffaloes, all the animals were related, in the end, so we make the decision to stop breeding,” Jamila outlined. “I suppose they’re not a species like hippos, which we’ll inbreed to the back teeth because we really care about whether or not we lose them. The buffaloes were just unlucky, I guess.”
We emerged into the breeze. Jamila took the safari truck, to park it and for a hose down, which I thought was particularly charitable of her, being a carnivore keeper who seldom drove one of the vehicles. Therefore, I was Kane’s host, taking care of him on his first visit to an Australian zoo. A cloud floated over the top of us.
“No doubt you’d be wanting to see the Australian animals,” I remarked.
“Yeah, of course,” Kane agreed. “There is a beautiful diversity of fauna on this continent.”
“There is,” I confirmed, “and on its adjacent islands.”
“Oh, of course.”
We cut across as a school group was marshalling just inside the main gate.
“Now, here’s a question for you, Jumilah.”
“Do you have a favourite Australian bird?”
“Well, that is a good question.” I finally smiled. “You might be just about to see mine, be patient.”
Kane was willing, so we approached the Australian trail. Over my shoulder, I found myself distracted by the gorillas.
“You don’t have any gorillas at Chester Zoo, do you?”
He shook his head.
“No, we don’t, ourselves,” Kane answered, and I recalled he'd mentioned this before, “but there are a reasonable number in England, I would say.”
I did wonder why a zoo like Chester wouldn’t have gorillas, but I remembered they did have two species of orangutans, as well as chimpanzees. We reached the Australian section. Grey kangaroos were free-ranging in a large walk-through area. Cape barren geese honked and wandered around our feet. They were tame enough that I presumed they were part of a captive population, but I didn’t know for sure. The roos were mostly lounging around. Off the path, the visitors shouldn’t have disturbed them, but some kids seemed to have other ideas.
“Hey, buddies,” I called out. “Can you please come back onto the path?”
They sheepishly returned, retreating from the kangaroos.
“Just be careful,” I urged. “This is their home. We need to respect that.”
They seemed to listen, so we exited the walk-through area. I glanced down.
“I’ll make sure to wash my boots before I get back on the plane, don’t worry.” Kane laughed. “It’s funny, the questions they ask you when you’re going through customs, even when they know what you’re there for. It’s for the best, I know.”
Out the other side were some pretty standard koala exhibits – nothing special, just like you’d see in any other Australian zoo. Nonetheless, Kane leaned against the fence.
“What a gorgeous little thing.”
As if on cue, one of the koalas scratched itself.
“Oh my goodness, it’s moving.”
I couldn’t help but smile, trying to suppress my cultural cringe. Of course Kane would be in awe of a koala, even an esteemed zoo professional like himself. They are beautiful, unmatched creatures. Yet, I led Kane in the direction of the next structure.
“Come on, this is what I wanted to show you.”
We passed through the lock into the walk-through aviary for the orange bellied parrots.
Birds glided through the warm air overhead.
“These are OBPs, orange bellied parrots,” I explained, “and they’re critically endangered.”
There were no more words. We listened to the whoosh and the chirp of each parrot. I’d never seen them in the wild, although I longed to, at least once. On the other side of the aviary was another grassy walk-through. At least these species were a little more active. They skittishly hopped back and forth across the visitor paths. Kane paused before the sign, skimming through the information.
“So, is that--?” he enquired, pointing at the wallaby.
I nodded, as we started making our way down the slightly chalky path.
“Yeah, that’s a Tammar Wallaby.”
“Are they Tasmanian too?”
“Ah, no. There’s the Tammar Valley in Tasmania, but the wallabies aren’t from there, they’re from the mainland. Just wait until I introduce you to Tasmanian Pademelons, though.”
“Are they here?”
“Ah, no worries, I’ll have to Google them,” Kane assured me, “or, you know, actually visit Tasmania for myself.”
“You’d always be welcome.”
We entered the reptile house, a relatively small space. It paled in comparison to the rest of Werribee’s exhibits. Still, it was a nice enough indoor space to wander through and gaze through the glass, then return. When Kane and I walked back into the main zoo, we encountered Jamila again.
“Want to come with me to the feed shed?”
The two of us trailed behind her. Kane’s passion for carnivores was immense. It made me realise the extent to which I preferred primates and birds.
“Can you be a vegetarian carnivore keeper?”
“Oh, I’m sure, of course you can be,” Kane confirmed. “Where else have you worked?”
“This is my third work placement. I was at Melbourne Zoo first, then Healesville, the native wildlife sanctuary, and then here, and I’m here for this week and next week.”
We arrived at the feed shed. Jamila unlocked the freezer section. She fetched food so that we could return to the lions, for their next feed. I was responsible for pushing the wheelbarrow with the carcass loaded.
“We’re approaching the exhibit of a dangerous animal,” Jamila mentioned.
“Good thing there’s three of us, then.” My smile quickly fell. “We need at least two personnel in order to attend to a Class 1 dangerous animal.”
“You’ve done your homework,” Kane commented.
“Well, we take these things seriously. We have to, especially after what happened. Joel was a friend of mine.”
We arrived at the lion exhibit.
“This is where Zoos Victoria breeds its lions.”
We sat under the viewing shelter, watching the pride.
“They’re magnificent animals,” Kane praised. “We’ve got Asiatics back home, but just quietly, African Lions are on the cards, provided we can get over the hurdles.”
“How much have you heard about what happened at Perth Zoo?”
“Well, I know that the director’s stood down. It seemed like it’s quite the mess.”
“Bill Nevill’s been accused of bullying, sexual harassment and assault. He’s a real piece of work.”
“A sex pest,” Kane surmised. “Is that an expression you use in Australia?”
“Yes, yes, it is,” Jamila confirmed. “A sex pest is exactly how I’d put it.”
We took a moment of lament.
“You know, our Asiatic Lions, they’re more solitary than the African species, but we still house the male with the females, except when she’s due to give birth, of course.”
“Have you ever thought about moving to Australia?”
“No, I haven’t,” Kane admitted with a chuckle, “but a place like this, it’d make me consider it.”
“You’d make a fine addition to our carnivore team.”
“Thank you, you’re too kind.”
We continued ambling along the path.
“I’m on the carnivore TAG back home. We make decisions about the species we breed, just like you would, here. At the moment, the big decision is whether to continue with the Asiatic Lion program in the EEP.”
“We’ll take them if you don’t want them,” I offered.
Kane shook his head, impressed.
“I might just take you up on that.”
Jamila crossed, then uncrossed, her arms and her legs.
“Would you like to head over to our new elephant complex?” she offered. “Well, the construction site for it.”
We stood, Kane rubbing his hands together. The three of us headed towards the site
“You’ve only got the two primate species here at the moment, is that correct?” Kane checked.
Jamila raised her eyebrows playfully.
“I thought you were a carnies man.”
“Yeah, I am,” Kane assured. “I take it that’s true--.”
“I’m just saying, it’s not what I’m used to.”
We eventually arrived at the construction site, where work was taking place on the bull barn. The vastness of the space takes my breath away every time.
“We’ll have a capacity for up to forty elephants.”
Kane stood with his arms folded and a grin on his face, shaking his face with awe.
“This will be incredible.”
We returned from the construction site for the new elephant complex, back into the main zoo. Jamila turned to Kane.
“I’m feeling a little peckish,” she admitted.
“I’d be down for grabbing a quite bit to eat,” Kane confirmed. “I didn’t bring anything with me.”
“Do you have any dietary requirements?”
Kane shook his head, so Jamila headed off to track down some food, leaving him and I alone for a little while, until she returned, having filled up some water bottles branded with Werribee Open Range Zoo iconography, too.
“I wouldn’t say that zoo catering here is better than anywhere else. Still, I managed to score us some rice paper rolls.”
Jamila chucked them to Kane, who caught them with soft hands.
“Nice, this is lovely, thank you.”
We sat down to eat lunch. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better day, to show off Australia to Kane. It was even a little bit warm, warmer than it would have been in England, for sure. I opened that, when we opened Acarda Zoo, we would be blessed with this sort of day. Yet, I couldn’t hang around with them for too much longer. I turned up a little late to the primate TAG meeting, while Kane remained with Jamila out in the zoo.
“Welcome, Jumilah,” Don greeted me.
“Sorry I’m a bit late.”
“That’s alright, you’ve got a visitor at Werribee today, I hear.”
“Yes, yes, we do,” I confirmed, then placed myself on mute.
The meeting was being led through a review of the region’s lemur programs, which Reuben facilitated.
“The bachelor group that we have is mostly very cohesive. Unless for pressing genetic reasons, I wouldn’t consider splitting them up.”
I noticed a face which I didn’t recognise. The name associated with his Zoom account was Jimmy Grigoryan. When he shifted in his seat, I noticed the logo on his shirt, which confirmed that he was from Perth Zoo. I wondered where Bill had gotten to. Of course, as the conversation continued on, I wasn’t in a position to ask.
“We’ve got our interest expressed to acquire lemurs,” Gilham mentioned, “but at this stage we’re still going through the process of building the exhibit. Then, hopefully, we’ll be able to receive the breeding group from Hunter’s place.”
“Reuben, you content with that?”
“I hardly see the value in housing even more ring-tailed lemurs,” Reuben insisted. “That said, two single-sex groups within the walk-through would be more than plausible. That would free up the existing exhibit for black and white ruffed lemurs.”
“We’re in a similar boat,” Sam admitted. “Our ring-tailed lemurs will end up back in Dubbo, long-term.”
“Are there any other lemur species which we could consider importing or including in our regional plans?”
“We would consider red-bellied lemur,” Jimmy spoke up. “I know that’s been discussed in the past, but I’m more than willing to follow the regional plan.”
“For what it’s worth, we’re extremely interested in keeping and breeding lemurs,” another man, Stefan Vaughn, spoke up.
It took me a moment to place him, but he’s involved at Gorge Wildlife Park in South Australia.
“Are they on the Live Import List currently?” Claire wanted to know.
“To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure,” Reuben admitted. “Quick, someone look it up.”
He’d kept his cards close to his chest, not expressing whether or not Melbourne Zoo was interested in the species.
“No, they’re not, currently, for Australia,” Christine noted, off the top of her head.
“Our African section will include accommodation for ruffed lemur,” Don outlined.
My heart was beating fast within my chest. I wasn’t quite sure why. To try to calm myself down, I found myself disassociating for a little while from the chatter in the meeting.
“I reckon that we could find room in our collection for bushbaby,” Don proposed.
“Look, I don’t think we have time to talk about other prosimians.”
“We can discuss that at a future meeting, though,” Christine assured, “especially with tarsiers now in the region.”
“It would be helpful to each have an opportunity to go through our masterplans at some point in the future,” Sam proposed. “I know not every zoo is in that position, but it might be helpful for informing regional collection plans.”
A chorus of agreement went around the Zoom room.
“That would be fine,” Christine agreed. “Let’s move onto the member reports. Melbourne Zoo?”
“There’s been some work taking place on the island opposite our orangutan exhibit. Our white-cheeked gibbon pair is going to be rehoused there within the next fortnight, once the work is complete, to move them out of the African trail.”
“Ah, not much news for us. I’ve been spending far too much of my time in meetings about the new Congo precinct, working things out with the architects and heritage and the like to finalise the plans.”
“Are you still going to have the two gorilla exhibits?”
“Yes, that’s the plan.”
“What’s happening with trying to breed from Johari?”
“Oh, I don’t think that we’ve gotten very far.”
“So, Johari hasn’t been impregnated by the young male?”
“As far as we’re aware, there hasn’t been mating between them. Of course, as part of any AI process, we would have to preg test her first. That would give us the opportunity to confirm that she is not pregnant, then commence the process of artificial insemination.”
“And you think that’s the next step?”
“Yes, if we’re proceeding with the breeding recommendation. There’s only so long we can keep Johari off contraception.”
I found myself instinctively fiddling with Kakek’s cross, around my neck. Trying to relax, I leaned back in my seat, checking that I was on mute.
“If you are going to artificially inseminate Johari, you may as well breed her with a male who is underrepresented.”
“Yes, but we need to make sure that the semen will be viable. That’s the challenge we have if we select a sire who is located outside of Sydney.”
“Hantu, the male Javan Gibbon, will be arriving tomorrow. We’ll take things slow and steady with pairing him with Cinta, but hopefully it won’t be too long before they’ll be in together and, who knows, perhaps we’ll see sparks fly.
The idea was enticing.
“Werribee Open Range Zoo?”
I instinctively sat forward in my seat, even though it was Des who would be speaking, taking himself off mute.
“One of our vervet monkeys died on Tuesday.”
I sensed something awkward about the silence which followed, save from one or two of the others offering their sympathies. Des supplied further details which I was already aware of, that the female was elderly and the death was from natural causes.
“We’ve got one extra item on the agenda before general business,” Christine noted. “Gumbuya World in Victoria has requested to become a member of the TAG.”
“Well, we’re sending them a male tree kangaroo,” Sam mentioned. “He’ll be heading down before the end of the year.”
“And do they plan to house primates?”
“They’ve just expressed an interest in acquiring GLTs,” Christine supplied.
To be pleasant, it was decided they could join. Personally I doubted why it needed to be such a big deal, but I suspected some of my colleagues were skeptical of ambition.
“We have to decide if we’re going to review our financial commitments to the global action group.”
“We’ve given quite a bit in the past, haven’t we?” Sam checked.
“Yes, we have,” Christine confirmed.
Sam sat back in his seat.
“They do good work, they help us organise ourselves. I reckon that we should keep giving to them, as long as we can afford it.”
With that, the decision went to something of an informal vote, where the unanimous resolution was to continue the contributions.
“Oh, also, I just need to note something,” Reuben spoke up. “I’ve contacted the international colobus studbook.”
George, as it turns out, had no poker face.
“They’ve said that they’ll get back to me.”
The primate TAG meeting came to an end. I closed my laptop and placed it back into my backpack. Stepping out of the staff quarters, I felt the late afternoon sun on my face. I wanted to find Jamila and Kane again, and figured that they would be hanging around somewhere near a carnivore exhibit, so I set off around the zoo’s walking trails in pursuit. I’d made my way around to the Australian area, before tracking them down.
“I thought that Kane should become acquainted with some of the creatures he can’t find over his way,” Jamila explained.
“Right, that’s great,” I replied with a smile, even though he'd already done the same with me.
We returned to the front of the zoo in preparation for Kane heading back to the airport for his flight to Hong Kong, from where he’d connect to the UK. Jamila offered to use her car, so she and Kane got into the front seat, with me as their backseat bandit for the trip between Werribee and Tullamarine.
“We do want to work closely with the Australasian region,” Kane assured.
“That’d be great,” I chimed in.
“You’ve got tarsiers, don’t you, Jumilah?”
“Well, yes, my grandparents did,” I confirmed. “They’re currently at Taronga Zoo in Sydney.”
“That is so cool.”
I noticed Kane’s joyous expression in the rear-vision mirror.
“Yeah, it is pretty cool,” I agreed.
After half an hour or so, we arrived at Tullamarine Airport, Jamila pulling over to the left into the drop-off zone.
“Thanks for the lift.”
Kane got out of the car, taking his bag with him. We waited until he’d entered through the double doors, before pulling away from the kerb. There was a smile on Jamila’s lips as we headed back to the zoo. I wouldn’t have blamed her for being smitten. Kane’s an attractive, charming man. I’d sound awfully shallow to just make it about looks. I glanced out over the Victorian landscape, golden under a blue sky. When Jamila and I returned to the zoo, we picked up Hamish and Whitlam, the two of them slipping into the empty seats of the car. As they fastened their seatbelts, she resumed driving us home.
“Kane got off alright to his flight?” Hamish checked.
“Yes, yes, he did,” Jamila confirmed. “It was good to have him here for the day.”
The car went quiet for a little bit. I found myself playing with my hair and was pondering what would have been happening back home. For a moment I considered ringing Mum and Dad, just wanting to hear their voices, but that wasn’t appropriate for the drive, when the others would be wanting to chat in the car, or else some peace and quiet.
“Oh, I feel like I know quite a bit about Chester Zoo now,” Jamila mentioned. “Now I feel like I want Malayan Tapirs to make a roaring comeback here.”
“I just don’t think that is a good idea.”
“We could easily have Brazilian Tapirs here at Werribee, I know that they bred them at Dubbo for many years,” Whitlam noted, “but I don’t think that they’re on the cards, at least as far as I’m aware. If Zoos Victoria went back into tapirs after Melita passes, then I reckon that Melbourne might take on Brazilians again.”
We finally returned home from the zoo and prepared a simple dinner. I tucked into my food, without much energy for conversation – or an empty mouth for any long period of time. It had been a beautiful day, any sense of melancholy completely unwarranted from the circumstances, but likely owing to the cumulative exhaustion of work and grief. Owing to the public holiday in New South Wales, we didn’t have class. Still, I sat down in front of my laptop. I found myself flicking through the readings in preparation for next week’s class, and the outline Sam put up in the subject portal in regard to our final assessment, writing a husbandry manual. It would be most practicable for me to write about an animal I’d worked with. Steam rose from a cup of tea into my face. To write about siamangs, I would be able to draw upon Nanek and Kakek’s knowledge. If only I could have spoken with him, to check what was right. I quickly found myself getting distracted. Listening to my heartbeat, I fiddled with the cross around my neck. There were plenty of other resources on the course page, from classes past. I clicked onto a map I recognised to be that of Taronga Zoo, although it looked a little different to the modern reality. This got me thinking about what we’re going to do for a map. I know we’ll have to design something. While on one hand, it would be easier to have a QR code to scan, I don’t know whether some people would prefer a printed map.
“What are you up to?” Whitlam wanted to know, pulling over a seat beside me.
“I’m just looking at the readings and stuff for my wildlife course,” I answered, my eyes not leaving the screen.
I took a sip from my cup of tea, then closed my computer screen.
“It’s a public holiday in Sydney. That’s why there’s no class today.”
Whitlam nodded his head.
“I’ve also been thinking about designing a map, for Acarda Zoo.”
“Our map’s terrible,” Whitlam admitted. “Lucky we have the buses to stop people from getting lost.”
“Yeah, that tricked me a little bit when I first arrived,” I confessed, “but I got the hang of things eventually.”
“Good on you.”
Whitlam sighed with tiredness.
“Are you going to head to bed?”
“Yeah, if you don’t mind.”
Whitlam walked away and up the stairs. I returned my attention to my studies. Fetching a spare piece of paper, I sketched out what we might be able to produce for a map, at least where the different animals will be housed. I thought about making myself another cup of green tea, because surely there would be some in the cupboard. Could I be bothered getting up? No, not really. Finally, I carried myself off to bed, and despite the fullness of my brain, didn’t take long to fall asleep.
Abbey Sim is a candidate for Honours in Communications at the University of Technology Sydney. She lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. Having started Huldah Media in 2021, Abbey desires to explore themes of hope, love and longing through her storytelling. She is the author of 'Shadow' and 'From the Wild'.