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Strength

Spring blossomed onto Healesville Sanctuary with a glum and rainy day. Head down, Nikki and I scampered from her car to the wildlife hospital. Walking in the other direction, a man departed, holding a long bag marked as containing a firearm. Nikki noticed as I started to shake, and she led me into a cupboard off to the side, so that I could sit down and drink water.


“My grandfather was shot dead in front of me,” I revealed. “I have PTSD. The idea of keeping a firearm on my property--.”


I shook my head.


“Why do you have a gun here at Healesville?”


“It’s a requirement for dangerous animals. I don’t believe we’ve ever used it.” Nikki leaned closer.

“Derek is involved with a procedure on one of our Tasmanian Devils. She’s going to be given her yearly vaccinations. Will you be right to assist?”


“Yeah, of course,” I agreed, wanting to prove myself.


I had been concerned that Nikki wasn’t going to allow me to help, but thankfully I was able to follow her through and into the sanctuary. We arrived at the Tasmanian Devil exhibit. Even though they could very well have been considered dangerous animals, Derek entered. Angel grizzled as she was picked up by the hind legs. Derek provided her with the two vaccinations she needed, then released her. We’d gotten through the procedure. My mind travelled back to Tasmania, to the hospital, where Patrick would be having surgery. One of our friends would let me know how it all went eventually, surely, hopefully.


“Jumilah, your name,” Derek commented. “It’s Indonesian, isn’t it?”


“Yes,” I confirmed. “My mother was born in Sumatra.”


Derek grinned. Faintly I could hear a song playing.


“You have a beautiful name, if you don’t mind me saying.”


“Thank you.”


We returned to the wildlife hospital. There was plenty to do, cupboards to sort and paperwork to complete. Whilst it was unsexy work, I knew that it would be a part of my future, running the zoo. I could never begrudge banal. We were about to sit down for lunch when Derek returned.


“Hi, can I please get your help if that’s alright?” he requested. “We’ve just brought Thunder in.”


I could feel my stomach grumbling. Nonetheless, I stood and followed Derek and Nikki through into the examination room, where a koala was on the table, for a procedure we hadn’t anticipated. He’d already been anaesthetised. Hooked up to the gas, Thunder’s breathing seemed laboured. I wasn’t sure whether that was as a result of the GA, or a broader health problem. Feeling a little confronted, my eyes scanned the walls of the room instead.


“I’ve noticed a malformation of the spine. Do you think we should take a scan?”


“Yeah, let’s do it,” Nikki agreed.


Derek moved the machine into place. For the X-ray, we moved out of the room. We waited. I wouldn’t necessarily need to know how to conduct X-rays as part of running the zoo – the Dodges Ferry vet would be responsible for that, but I did want to possess at least a basic understanding. Derek brought up the films, affixing them to the light box.


“What do you think that is?”


“It’s a break in the spinal cord.”


We returned to Thunder in the examination cord, his breathing assisted by the respirator.


“Currently, he’s paralysed.”


“Is there a chance we could repair his spine?”


“No, I don’t think so, sadly. The paralysis would be manageable if it was further down the cord, but not in that position. We need to euthanise him.”


The three of us sombrely moved back into the examination room. I sniffled.


“There are two drugs we’ll use in this procedure,” Nikki explained.


She reached for a syringe and drew up the drug.


“This is a sedative, to make Thunder more comfortable during the procedure.”


She located a blood vessel and made the injection, then retrieved the other medication. I grimaced, but I needed to stay and bear witness.


“And now I will apply the euthanasia drugs.”


I gently patted Thunder’s fur, keeping my hand away from the injection site. Nikki pressed in the needle, and we waited until he died.


“Goodbye, mate.”


Derek gently tapped Thunder’s body, then exited the room.


“He’ll be cremated.”


I swallowed.


“Do we, do we have to do that now?”


Nikki shook her head.


“How are Lula and her mother going?”


“They’re both alright for now,” Nikki answered. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”


“Yes, indeed we will.”


My eyes panned towards the clock.


“Have you got a meeting now?”


“Yes, I do, if that’s alright, the carnivore TAG.”


“Yeah, of course, that’s fine,” Nikki permitted.


“Thank you.”


I departed, grabbing myself a snack on the way. When I sat down in the meeting room, I nibbled the rest of the apple, then left it on the table as I waited for Margie to arrive. When she didn’t turn up after a little while, I logged in anyway. The discussion before the proceedings got underway was about the new Head of Carnivores position at Adelaide Zoo, which Joel is on the shortlist for.


“My choice would be Joel Donovan.” Bill pulled a face. “I know, Bill, that you’d miss him, but I’ve worked with him and it’d be good for him to get a promotion.”


“And the fact that he’s in a relationship with Isobel Carey, who already works at Adelaide Zoo, would have nothing to do with that,” Bill remarked.


“What can I say? Joel is very good at his job.”


Monica joined the meeting.


“Hey,” I greeted her, feeling guilty as anything. “How has your day been?”


“Yeah, good, just a regular day,” Monica answered.


Margie slipped into the room, so I made sure that I was muted.


“Sorry, I know I’m running a bit late.”


“Let’s move onto the member reports.”


Bill slurped coffee from his mug.


“Adelaide?”


“We’ve received a male red panda from Beerwah. So far, we haven’t moved him into the exhibit. We’d just like to make sure that there aren’t any problems, that we’re not going to have any escapes.”


Harold sounded like he spoke from experience.


“Auckland?”


“We’ve moved one of our groups of otters into the new exhibit.”


“I’m sorry, I thought that you only had one group of otters,” Reuben noted.


“Well, we’ve split the group into two now, because there were problems within the hierarchy.”


“Beerwah?”


“As Harold mentioned, we transferred one of our male red pandas. He’s arrived safe and sound.”


“Darling Downs?”


“Our Sri Lankan Leopards have bred. We believe there are two healthy cubs.”


I beamed.


“Healesville?”


“We’re quarantining half of the newest arrivals of Grey Dorcopsis Wallaby, and Ground and Spotted Cuscus.”


I reached for my phone, in case they wanted photos.


“Melbourne?”


“And we have the other half,” Monica confirmed. “All being well, they’ll be release from quarantine early next week.”


“I’m just going to slip out now.”


Margie stood up from her seat.


“See you later.”


“Bye,” I farewelled with a wave.


Margie left the office, to get back to work.


“Is everything alright there, Jumilah?” Bill checked.


“Yes, thank you. Margie sends her apologies, she just needed to get back to work.”


Bill nodded his head, although I wasn’t sure he was that impressed. I would have plugged in headphones, but I didn’t have any on hand.


“Mogo?”


“Our male hyena has arrived from Monarto and he’s settling in well, thankfully. I did want to ask about this breeding program within the region, because as far as I’m aware, there’s no species coordinator.”


“We’re part of an internationally coordinated program.”


“Do you think that we have the numbers to go it alone now?” Julie suggested.


“I don’t think so,” Bill answered, “although, if you think so, I’m happy for you to look into the possibility. Monarto?”


“Unfortunately, we’ve had to separate our cheetah cubs from their mother.”


Nikki came into the office.


“Hey, how are you going?” I asked, before realising I wasn’t on mute. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to.”


I pressed the button, and even turned my camera off so that we could chat without being a disruption.


“Yeah, all good. Are you still in your meeting?”


“Yeah.”


“That’s OK, I’ll leave you to it,” she mentioned, then departed, allowing me to concentrate again.


“Tasmania?”


“We’ve received a binturong pair from Darling Downs. These are purebred animals and we hope to breed from them.”


I was keen to get back to Launceston, to see the new binturongs and their exhibit for the first time.


“Do you anticipate other zoos will take on the purebred species?”


“I think at the end of the day, with all due respect, we have a sole focus,” Raffa outlined. “We do the best that we can with the budget that we have, but we don’t have the luxuries that some of you have.”


I didn’t take his remarks as being pointed, even though he would have been perfectly justified to say. The carnivore TAG meeting came to an end. By that point, it would have been about hometime. Therefore, I tracked down Nikki, who was just packing up for the end of her working day. With our bags, we left the sanctuary in her car. Nikki dropped me back to the Roberts’ farm.


“Thanks for the lift.”


“You’re welcome.”


I got out of the car, waving farewell as I strode to the front door. Nikki drove away while I entered the farmhouse and walked through to the kitchen. Mrs Roberts handed around the plates of dinner, steam rising from rice and vegetable curry. We migrated to the dining table.


“Thank you, this looks absolutely delicious.”


“Thanks, it’s nothing special.”


I disagreed, and devoured my dinner.


“What are your travel plans?”


“Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll head down with Reuben to Melbourne.”


Once we finished eating, I helped clean away, pondering the days to come. The rest of the family went to bed. Before I went to sleep, I started playing random songs on Spotify. I turned the music down soft, so that the others wouldn’t be disturbed. Despite feeling tired, I couldn’t manage to actually drift off, even though I knew I needed the rest. All I could do was lie in bed, hoping for sleep, and wait until morning arrived.


 

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'.


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