By the time that I woke up this morning, Mum and Dad had already left for work. She’d left a note on the kitchen island.
Hope it goes well with the wildlife lady today. Ring me if you need anything. Love you.
I truly felt grateful, even though my hands were shaking a little bit from nerves about Carol’s impending visit. Thankfully, our house was tidy enough. I went out the back, trying to take a deep breath to calm myself down. It must have been a while, before I could hear the phone ringing inside, so I went back into the house, but it rung out without me being able to answer it. While I was a little worried it could have been Nanek, Carol arrived at the door, so I scurried forth to open it.
“Come in, Carol,” I urged, stepping aside so that she could move through the doorway. “Would you like a cup of coffee or tea?”
“Tea would be lovely, thank you.”
We walked through into the kitchen. I flicked on the kettle and made tea for us both.
“Do you have milk or sugar?”
“No sugar, please, do you happen to have non-dairy milk?”
“Yeah, we’ve got almond milk, is that alright?”
“That’s perfect, thank you.”
With our cups of tea, I led Carol out onto the back porch.
“You have a beautiful property here.”
“Thank you. We have two-hundred-and-seventy-five hectares.”
“That’s wonderful, what more could you want?”
We sat down, gazing out into the rolling hills.
“We used to have a sheep and cattle property, but we gave that away.”
“Do you live with your parents here?”
“Yes, Mum and Dad and I. I’m an only child.”
Carol sipped her tea.
“It was the drought that got us.”
Mum had shielded me from most of the memories of that time.
“I should have asked before, how old are you?”
“I’m seventeen, I’ll be eighteen in March.”
“Well, I’m sorry that you’ll have to wait until your birthday to become a carer.”
“That’s alright. It’s only a month away now.”
“Look, you’ve got my phone number, and you know where I live, so I would encourage your parents to do the course. You can do it as well, of course, so that you’ll be ready for when you turn eighteen and you can become a carer.”
Carol ran me through what we’d learn. We finished our cups of tea, and I agreed that I’m still interested. Once Carol was gone, I wanted to have a lie-down. Checking my watch, I’d have the chance. I lay down with a sigh and closed my eyes for a little while, but didn’t fall asleep. Knowing that I had the primate meeting next, I got up again and walked out to the kitchen. I rummaged through the cupboards to find something to eat, hoping that would make me feel better. After making myself a sandwich, I ate it sitting on the lounge, then hopped onto the computer to log into the TAG meeting. There were a few others already on the call, including David.
“Jumilah came to visit us over the weekend. She brought her band friends with her.”
“I didn’t know that Jumilah had band friends,” Reuben remarked.
“Some of my work friends have started a band. My cousin plays the drums in it.”
“Next show in Launceston, I’ll have to come along if I’m not too uncool for it,” David offered.
Eventually once everyone was around, Christine commenced the meeting.
“Our weekly presentation this week is from Sam Chen, Taronga Zoo.”
Sam started sharing his screen.
“Through routine examinations, we determined that one of our elephants was suffering from tuberculosis.”
“Were you surprised to learn this?”
It turns out that Reuben doesn’t discriminate in the questions that he asks during presentations, in these meetings.
“Well, yes, it’s not like we’re planning on having TB.”
Sam cleared his throat.
“We performed tests on the other elephant and staff members who worked with the elephants. Thankfully there weren’t any active infections. What we didn’t know is how the elephant was infected.”
This was where I suspected the chimpanzee would come into it.
“At the end of that same year, we learned a chimpanzee was also infected.”
Sam changed the slides onto a map of Taronga Zoo. Even from my recent, brief visits, I’d supposed that the elephants and chimpanzee exhibits are separated from each other, and I figured that there might not be too much staff crossover, either.
“Unfortunately, the chimpanzee needed to be euthanised. We scaled up screening of staff and other animals, although thankfully none had disease.”
“Were there any secondary infections?”
I would have thought that Sam had already just answered that question, but I was about to learn something.
“Yes, there were three human infections and seven infections in other chimpanzees, but no disease.”
There is a difference apparently, which I wouldn’t have realised otherwise. I learn quite a lot through coming along to these primate TAG meetings, even though it would be a long time before we would have the hope of caring for chimpanzees, and even longer before elephants would be a possibility. Maybe the tide will turn on elephants in captivity before then. Nanek and Kakek never had elephants full-time at the sanctuary, but I know that they helped to care for an orphaned calf at one point. There are notes about it in one of Kakek’s diaries, and photos of Mum with the calf.
“All considered, not that bad a result.”
“But it didn’t help you determine how either animal was infected.”
“No. We were in communication with the health department, and they helped us to examine other human cases. Of course it’s possible that someone with TB visited the zoo, but there’s no physical contact between elephants or chimps and members of the general public, so it was an unlikely possibility.”
Sam changed slides once again.
“So, we were able to rule out that possibility. We also screened wild animals on zoo grounds, where we could. No evidence of further TB infection or disease was located within wild populations of birds and mammals around the zoo grounds.”
“That’s good news,” I chimed in.
“Yes, it is,” Sam confirmed. “We still hadn’t found the path of transmission, so we investigated preserved tissue of deceased zoo animals. Again, we found nothing to indicate that these animals died of TB or had TB.”
“So you’ve basically got no idea.”
“Well, yes, effectively,” Sam conceded. “I don’t know how either animal was infected. There are some other potential lines of enquiry in relation to fomite transmission. There’s a storage corridor behind the elephant barn which the elephants have access to.”
“So, it’s possible that some feed or equipment was moved from that corridor to the chimpanzees.”
“Yes, that’s possible. We believe that the elephant was infected upon arrival. There still isn’t any infection in any of the other elephants imported at the same time. That’s good news, of course. None of the calves have been infected either, at either facility.”
Sam changed his slide onto another, filled with text about the original importation of the elephant herd.
“That will give you some more information. The next course of action is to investigate elephant-generated aerosol transmission. This hasn’t been scientifically proven in relation to TB infection, but we have the opportunity to test and prove or disprove this hypothesis from our vets.”
“Well, you’re at square one.”
I’m grateful to learn from Sam, but I can see that Reuben has a point – that unfortunately they haven’t gotten anywhere. After the presentation, Christine went around the circle, to announce any news. David mentioned the birth of the white-cheeked gibbon infant, which was greatly celebrated.
When I finally came out of the meeting and checked my phone, I noticed that there was a missed call from Tallulah. I wandered into my bedroom and called her back, throwing myself onto the bed. Tallulah answered just as I adjusted, so that I would be more comfortable.
“Sorry I missed your call. Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m OK. Would you like to have dinner at Eastlands tonight?”
Afterwards, I called Mum to check it would be fine.
“Do you mind if I have dinner out with Tallulah tonight?”
“That’s fine, that’s good for you to spend time with her.”
Once we got off the phone, I checked a message in our work group chat. I clicked on the image, a picture of the community noticeboard. I’ll be back at work tomorrow, so I can deal with it then. I headed out of the house, putting on my helmet then getting on my bike to ride for over an hour, into town. Upon arriving at Eastlands, I got off my bike. I removed my helmet and looked for the bike rack, so that I could tie it up. Once I’d done that, I headed to the entrance where we’d agreed we’d meet. I searched the faces approaching from the carpark, waiting for Tallulah to arrive, although it was Sloane whom I first recognised, and she stopped to chat.
“Did you enjoy the weekend away?”
“Yeah, it was really lovely, thank you. I’m glad that Patrick asked me along. What were you doing here?” Sloane asked, her voice light.
“I’m meeting Tallulah for dinner.”
Sloane seemed to notice something over my shoulder. I spun around, noticing that Tallulah was coming our way, but she was trailing after a large family, headed by none other than Frank from work.
“Look who we have here,” he greeted us, as Tallulah stepped into place beside me.
“Frank, this is Tallulah, my friend from high school. Tallulah, this is Frank, from work, and you already know Sloane, obviously, from this last weekend.”
Frank introduced his family, his wife Mary, and children whose names which didn’t sink in. I did know that he had that many kids, but I’d never met them before.
“It’s lovely to see you, Sloane,” Mary greeted me, “and it’s a pleasure to meet you, Jumilah.”
“Nice to meet you too.”
We parted ways, before I had the chance to ask Sloane if she’d be at work tomorrow.
“Would you like,” Tallulah proposed, “to just have dessert for dinner?”
“That would be lovely,” I agreed.
We found a place – well, Tallulah chose a place – although I was still thinking about how Sloane seemed to have walked off with Frank and his family.
“What was it that you wanted to tell me?” I asked as we sat down at our table.
Tallulah sighed heavily.
“The café is closing. I’m going to have to find a new place to work.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. That’s awful.”
Tallulah shrugged her shoulders.
“It’s less than ideal.”
The news put somewhat of a sombre mood over our dessert-for-dinner. We still enjoyed a couple of plates, which we shared so that we could sample both – a sticky date pudding with white chocolate ice cream and a raspberry pie. When we were leaving, I found myself looking for Sloane. Even though we hadn’t known each other particularly well, I worry about her. I wheeled my bike with me as we walked back towards Tallulah’s place.
“Do you ever feel really, really old?”
“No, I don’t really. Do you?”
“Sometimes I do lately, now that the younger ones at work are going to be going back to school.”
“Is Sloane the first person you know who’s our age who is having a baby?”
“Sloane’s not our age, she’s sixteen.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Then yes, she is.”
Once we got back to Tallulah’s place, it started to rain heavily, so she offered to drive me back home so that I wouldn’t have to ride in the dark and the wet.
“Have you thought about what job you’re going to get next?”
“I mean, I would love to get some sort of job at a vet surgery, but I don’t know what’s around.”
When Tallulah reached my house, we said goodbye and I went inside to get into bed and try to drift off for the night. Mum and Dad had long gone to bed, but I couldn’t sleep, so I stopped trying. It was torturing me. I knew that I needed to get rest, and yet the darkness of closing my eyes seemed to frighten me. My heart thumped, a constant ache within my chest, so I got up, moving my body slowing through the house, into the kitchen where I opened the fridge. There wasn’t much which seemed to take my fancy in terms of food. Instead I poured myself a drink of water and drunk it slowly, before going back into my bedroom to finally go to 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.