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I called Isobel this morning, to check in on the clouded leopards. It would have been doubly early with South Australia being half an hour behind, but I sensed that she would be up already.

“Hey, Jumilah,” Isobel greeted me when she answered the phone. “How are you?”

“I’m alright.” I could hear siamangs calling in the background. “Are you busy at the moment?”

“No, but I’m at the zoo already.”

“Yeah, right,” I replied, trying to sound as calm as possible.

“It keeps my mind busy, being here, with the primates,” Isobel noted. “Are you at Werribee?”

“No, we haven’t left yet,” I replied. “How are the clouded leopards going?”

“Alright,” she answered, although there was reservation in her voice. “One of the males has been showing aggression all the way through. I’m very concerned about allowing him to spend unsupervised time with the female.”

“Please don’t tell me that’s lovely Batu causing the problems.”

“No, no, he’s a gem. I understand where he got his name from. The keepers at the Jeffersonian selected well.”

Jamila and I waved to say good morning to each other. She gestured towards me to tell me that it was almost time for us to leave for the zoo.

“No, Langtang is our problem child. So much for this superior rearing method. Although, I suppose that it kind of proves the point, because he’s from the older litter. Plenty of time to develop a feisty personality no matter what.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“It’s alright. I mean, it’s not alright, but we’ll figure something out. At the very least we’ll breed one pair.”

“Well, I’m always offering if you need an extra hand of two.”

“Thank you, thank you. I’m sure you’ve got plenty of your own dramas to sort out.”

We ended the call and I scampered out the front. Getting into the car, I fastened the seatbelt across my chest and slipped my phone into my bag. I breathed out slowly. There was nothing I could do to change the situation, in either direction. The trip to the zoo was eerily quiet. Even the traffic seemed muted and, for the most part, we appeared to catch every green light. Once we were at the zoo and signed in for the day, I followed Whitlam to the hippo exhibit.

“Do you reckon the population will survive long enough for the import ban to be overturned?” I asked when we were almost there.

Whitlam shrugged his shoulders.

“Hippos are long-lived animals.”

They are also dangerous animals, so the two of us needed to be on hand to shift them from one holding area to another.

“I’d hope so,” Whitlam answered my question, “but there’s no guarantee of getting an IRA approved, ever. And an IRA is?”

“An Import Risk Assessment. In order to import an animal into the country, you need one in place, which sets out the conditions for import. Currently, there is no IRA for hippos, so they can’t be imported into the country.”

“But one’s being worked on.”

“And has been for years,” I added.

Whitlam unlocked the gate which led into the off-show race.

“Are you skeptical about its success?”


Whitlam smirked.

“Reuben’s getting to you.”

“I suppose that he has,” I admitted. “There’s a lot more that going into running a zoo than meets the eye, I’m starting to learn that.”

“Well, it’s a worthy lesson.”

I’d been at Werribee long enough to be able to experience something resembling an ordinary morning. We turned the corner. I expected that Primrose and her calf would be in their night dens. Blood had pooled on the concrete floor. Whitlam dropped the shovel.

“Something’s wrong. I know, something’s really wrong.”

He reached for his radio. I scanned the walls.

“Whitlam to the vet hospital, we need someone down at hippos at the rush, over.”

He approached the bars. While little Kamaria was running around, Primrose had dropped to the ground, not moving. I wasn’t even sure if she was still breathing, although it could be difficult to tell. Whitlam encouraged me to get a food reward. It seemed to do nothing. Even if Primrose was compromised, if she was still alive, then entering the dens would have been likely fatal for us.

“Whitlam in at hippos, do we have an ETA on a vet?” he asked over the radio, sounding increasingly frustrated. “I’ve done all I can here without support, over.”

“Zola in to Whitlam, over.”

“Oh, it’s good to hear your voice.”

I thought that I could hear Zola’s footsteps in real life, too.

“Bailey’s on his way,” she confirmed, still getting her breath back. “Less than five minutes, I promise.”

Zola appeared around the corner, Bailey following shortly after. We ascertained that Primrose was still alive, so the suggestion was made that she be knocked out for investigation. Hippo anaesthesia, being incredibly risky, could only be used as a last resort.

“Yes, that would make sense,” Whitlam agreed.

Really, Des usually would have made the final call in these dicey situations, but in this case, there was no time for that. Bailey loaded the dart gun with haste, then lined it up, pointing it between the bars in the off-display area. He fired a shot which landed on Primrose’s rump.

“Do you want to knock out the calf?”

“No, no, surely we can’t.” Whitlam sighed heavily. “No, whatever you reckon, Bailey.”

I couldn’t fathom what would happen if Kamaria lost her mother at such a tender age. Sure, she would have her older sister, Brindabella, but they were yet to be introduced. Usually hippo calves would be kept apart from adults other than their mothers until at least six months of age.

“It would be functional.”

For the meantime, we left Kamaria with Primrose. Finally, we were able to enter the den. Kamaria was not eating solid food. Therefore, she naturally wanted to stay with her mother, even though working around a calf would be difficult.

“Let’s try and keep this as quick as possible.”

Bailey examined between Primrose’s legs.

“It seems like there’s some post-partum haemorrhaging. It wouldn’t have thought it would have taken this long to show up.”

I played with Kakek’s cross, saying a prayer. Undoubtedly, this would be discussed with my psychologist at our next appointment. I monitored Primrose’s respiration throughout the procedure. At the same time, Kamaria was being occupied.

“We need to stop the bleeding.”

I hoped that it would be possible. Bailey drew up a syringe.

“This medication should be helpful.”

“I didn’t realise you would be able to do that.”

Bailey provided an injection, which would hopefully stop the haemorrhaging. The next shot into the hippo’s thick skin was a reversal agent. Everybody was instructed to exit, except for Bailey. Primrose was still breathing, although not waking up. I gripped the mesh outside the hippo enclosure. Even though I was learning, I didn’t have the experience to understand what would happen next. Zola played with her engagement ring anxiously. Just when it looked like she wouldn’t have another breath, Primrose moved.

“Everyone out.”

Bailey moved towards the exit, although Kamaria was close to his feet. Somehow he managed to get her to return to her mother. Bailey finally closed the door behind him and Whitlam made sure to lock it. Primrose looked around. She noticed Kamaria, who snuggled in for a snuggle. Whitlam and I exited the back-of-house area and made our way back to the staff quarters. I took a gulp of water, but it went down the wrong way, and I found myself spluttering.

“I’m proud of you, Jumilah,” Whitlam praised. “You were great.”

“Oh, I didn’t do much.”

I eventually regained my breath.

“You did. I know that it takes courage.”

“Thank you.”

I took a deep breath. While I didn’t want to make a big deal of what we’d just been through, I did feel a little rattled, but didn’t particularly want to discuss it. Therefore, I decided to change the subject, although it easily could have been circled back.

“Do you think that Primrose will breed again?”

“Oh, we would still get breeding recommendations if we had a bull. If we can get a bull sooner rather than later, I’m sure she could.”

With that settled, Whitlam needed to return to work.

“If you want to, you don’t have to come.”

“Thanks,” I agreed, and Whitlam departed.

I could hear construction noise, which I let get the better of me, so I made myself a coffee and headed out with it to the site. Finding somewhere to sit down, I watched while I sipped. The foundations of the barn had been constructed. It reminded me of watching a movie in high school. The Amish community all participated in a barn raising. Witnessing murders aside, it all seemed rather charming. A similar sense of community was demonstrated at Werribee Open Range Zoo, albeit elsewhere. I finished my coffee. Perhaps this had been a mistake. I knew that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to just take a breather whenever something had been difficult back home. It would have been a chance for me to get distracted by my phone, except I’d left it in my bag. Therefore, I returned to the staff quarters, heading past the off-display paddocks for oryx. There, I encountered Jamila. She was just finishing up some work on her laptop, so I asked her about it.

“Well, there are quite a few porcupines in the region. They’re a species you might consider, at least down the track.”

We started wandering back towards the car.

“You know, I was speaking with Isobel this morning.”

“How is she?”

“We mostly talked about the clouded leopards,” I outlined. “They’re having problems with one of the males, Langtang, who has been pretty aggressive.”

“That’s not surprising, unfortunately.”


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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