I stepped out the back door into the morning light. My lips curved into a smile as I listened to the song of the gibbon and siamang pairs on their islands. On the outdoor primate run, I first headed to the macaques’ moated exhibit, scattering food for the troop across the frosty grass and throughout the rope climbing structures, which were enmeshed with foliage allowing privacy. I slunk back into the corridor. From safety, I pulled on the rope. The macaques wasted no opportunity to get outside. They foraged about for their food. Knowing it would take the troop a while, I crossed the path. On my way to the gibbon islands, I stumbled over a stick on the path. Catching my breath and my footing, I bent over and discarded it, so that it would not pose a hazard to visitors. Next I let myself onto the gibbon island. I lifted the slide, allowing Laki and Mawar to languidly shift themselves outside. Never far apart from one another, they located a platform to lounge upon. The morning sun warmed them both, while I moved onto the final exhibit on that run, the siamangs. Their island needed a broken branch fished out of the moat, to prevent escape. My mind wandered while I waded. Later on in the day I would need to join the primate TAG meeting, and, as the species coordinator for breeding siamangs in Australia and New Zealand, speak with Julie from Mogo Wildlife Park about the plethora of male siamangs she held on site, and their future breeding opportunities. Another son had recently arrived to their breeding pair. Once I’d provided the morning feed, Medan was first out of the night quarters, his mate Georgia not far behind him. Approaching her first birthday, Jelita still clung to her mother’s chest, nipple half in her mouth. Maybe she would be paired up with the young male at Mogo, down the line.
Finishing off the primate run, I glimpsed my watch. I was not permitted to enter the dhole area without a second set of human eyes. Therefore, I couldn’t get on with my day unless another person turned up, just the sort of reliance I didn’t appreciate. Thankfully, Luke arrived just in time. He’d even brought the meat. I didn’t appreciate the smell. Yet, as I unlocked the door, I glanced up at the sky. We’d started the zoo small, with a collection of animals from Sumatra and Australia. Expansion would take place in time, all being well, but firstly we needed to catch our breaths and take good care of the animals already in our keeping. We provided food, then surveyed the dholes, the young female limping.
“Do you see it, Jumilah?”
“Yeah,” I agreed, as I exhaled.
“Do you think it’s a big problem?”
“I think it’s just something we’ll have to deal with, you know. If I’m really worried, I’ll call Tallulah. She can come down with Doctor Thomas.”
“Well, yeah, up to you,” Luke assured. “Maybe I’m just overanxious.”
“Not half as much as me, mate,” I remarked.
The dholes were let out for the morning into their enclosure. Nanek would want to know if there was anything wrong with the dholes. She cared for them deeply, especially after the demise of the rest of the troop prior to the survivors leaving Sumatra. I rubbed my tired eyes, then traipsed back into the house.
“Former Perth Zoo director Bill Nevill is facing trial later today for manslaughter and the sexual assault of one of the zoo’s keepers.”
I stepped into the loungeroom, attracted by the sounds and light of the television, where Mum placed a plate of toast into my hands.
“Mr Nevill is accused of contributing to the death of carnivore keeper, Joel Donovan, who was killed in a tiger attack at the zoo last year.”
The news bulletin moved on.
“All good around the place this morning?”
“Yeah, yeah,” I answered, a little breathless.
Mum gently rested her hand between my shoulder blades, then glanced at her watch.
“Oh, Jumilah, you need to sort out getting your firearms licence,” Dad reminded me.
“Come on, you know why I don’t want to.”
“Jumilah, it is a legal requirement.” Mum stroked her hand over my hair, looking at Dad with big eyes. “I know that you don’t like it. To tell you the truth, I don’t perfectly like it either, but it’s the law. It’s to keep us safe, to keep you safe, even if you don’t personally believe that. You’re my precious girl.”
I leaned into his embrace. Dad held me close.
“I know why this frightens you.”
“I’ll get it done.”
He kissed my temple.
“It’s almost nine,” I read from the clock. “I’d better go and open the gates.”
Dad let me go. Keys in hand, I ensured that the gates to Acarda Zoo were unlocked, with Luke manning the entrance kiosk. I strode out into the zoo, with my phone. The outdoor environment would be ideal to call David.
“Good morning,” he greeted me when he answered.
I noticed smoke in the distance. I’d check with Mum and Dad, but likely they were burning off next door.
“Hi, David,” I responded. “I’m sorry I missed your call at the end of last week. I thought I’d get back in touch with you before primates this arvo.”
“Oh, yes, of course. How are you?”
The squawking of the lorikeets in the walk-through aviary tempted me to regret my decision to make the call in the zoo.
“Good, thanks,” I answered as I headed over.
If they were bothering – or being bothered by – a member of the public, then it was my problem. I passed through the lock and into the aviary, locating both lorikeets. They were in their usual spot on the boulder.
“What was it that you wanted to talk about?” I urged him.
“Look, I’m interested in dholes.”
I counted the visitors in the aviary – a couple of teenage boys and an older woman with a toddler, likely a grandmother and grandchild. The doves had perched on the aviary of the viewing platform. One of them swooped, nearly taking out one of the boys, but diverting just in time. Furrowing my brow, I approached the dove, resting on the boulder near the lorikeets. The teenage boys exited out the lock at the other end. I wondered why they weren’t at school, the holidays having already finished. I shook my head at the dove, who didn’t understand.
“Look, take it easy,” I urged.
David grunted over the phone.
“Sorry, I wasn’t talking to you.”
“All good, Jumilah.”
“We were talking about dholes.”
“Yes,” David confirmed, “and I heard you’re interested in koalas.”
“Maybe we can work out some sort of two-for-one deal?” I quipped.
David chuckled. I departed the aviary.
“Well, any dholes we do breed, will likely return to Sumatra, because they’re a purebred subspecies, but, you know, if you want some for display, maybe--.”
“It’s alright. I understand they have to breed first.”
“Yep,” I agreed, then sighed heavily.
“Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Yeah,” I answered, not that I meant it. “Dad’s on my back about getting my firearm licence.”
“Look, if it’s any consolation, just because I’ve got mine doesn’t mean that I’ve ever had to use it.”
“Thank you, David.”
I ought not have brought this up with him.
“The trial starts today, Bill’s trial, for sexual assault and manslaughter.”
Gravel crunched underneath my feet, on the path back from the aviary. Mawar hung by one arm, from the gumtree on her island. I knew that was her stronger arm. Were Mawar pregnant, I hoped she would be able to raise the baby.
“I would like to know what happens, what they say. How will we find out?”
“Many of the Perth Zoo people are witnesses, but some of the others are going along to view the trial.”
“Look, I’m sure we’ll discuss it in the TAG meeting.”
At least if not this week, then in the future. David and I finished the call, so I lowered my phone and squeezed it tight. My list of admin work had piled up like excrement, so I returned to the house and my computer, only breaking for lunch after a few hours. I sat down a little early for the primate TAG meeting, as I figured that I would get distracted if I headed back out into the zoo.
“We’ve received an apology from Christine. She’s got a very busy day on her hands with her snow leopards, so I’ll be chairing the meeting today,” Reuben announced.
The sisters were arriving from Melbourne. Being the opening day of Bill’s trial brought the memories flooding back, of September mornings with Joel at Melbourne Zoo. I didn’t know how Isobel was holding herself together, let alone attending the meeting in Don’s place while he was on long service leave. Claire also was yet to pop up.
“I know many of you will have strong feelings about what’s taking place at the moment.” I sensed that Reuben was choosing his words very carefully. “We can speak to each other as colleagues and as people. There is also professional help available and I would suggest that you make use of it, especially for those who have worked closely with those involved.”
I scanned the nervous faces. Of course, this situation has bled into my own conversations with my psychologist – how could it not?
“Alright.” Reuben breathed out. “Let’s get on with the meeting. I suppose that we should have the member reports now.”
“Sorry I’m late,” Sam apologised, just after his face popped into the Zoom call.
He slicked some slightly-damp hair back.
“It’s been a pretty busy day, lots of cameras, a couple of stray wallabies. Fortunately, Nura Diya Australia is now open to the public and most of the animals are in place in their new exhibits.”
I was keen to get to see it, having been under construction on my last visit.
“Are you going to be looking for a silverback gorilla soon?” Des wanted to know. “I have some excellent candidates if Don is happy to bend the EEP’s rules.”
I sensed tension, like an anxious gut, but nobody was prepared to explode and express their feelings, which was probably for the best. Isobel breathed out over her top lip, then brushed some hair back from her face.
“Look, I can’t speak for Don entirely. Some of these questions might have to be taken on notice.”
“Let’s discuss this further on Thursday, shall we?” A chorus of nods went around the Zoom meeting. “Will Monica be at that meeting?”
“Yes, she will be,” Isobel confirmed, “and I’m sure she’ll be very happy to take further questions about carnivores, leopards and the like.”
“We don’t have a representative from Hamilton Zoo at the meeting today. John and Tessa are both still on sick leave, so I’m sure we all wish them all the best with their recoveries.”
I needed to message Tessa again, just to let her know I was thinking of her.
“Kyabram Fauna Park?”
“We opened our new reptile house over the weekend.”
The announcement wasn’t primate-related. Yet, that didn’t surprise me, especially coming from Frank. He’s been used to managing a place without primates, and now just with lemurs. As far as I’m aware, tamarins might be on the cards soon, but not yet.
“We’ve had a litter of meerkats born.”
“And they aren’t primates, mate,” Reuben retorted. “Try again.”
Coldness whacked my body, like being slapped by a fish. The interaction was just plain weird. I sat back in my seat.
“Look, mate, there isn’t any primate news. You know that, and you know that I know that.”
Rarely was Reuben put in his place like that.
“Ah, my turn, I suppose, we’re got a bit of a staffing announcement. Beth Buckley has filled the vacancy in our primate team. She has previously worked with us in marine mammals.”
I tilted my head. Beth had told me how much she loved working with marine mammals. Especially with Isaac out of the picture, I didn’t think she’d jump ship.
“And, Mapenzi, our young female colobus, is pregnant.”
“Well, you really buried the lead there, didn’t you?” Blessing remarked. “That’s beautiful news, mate. I’m really pleased to hear.”
After months of nervous waiting, the pairing seemed to have paid off. Now all we had to do was hope and pray the baby would be delivered safely.
“And how is Nyani’s pregnancy going?” Sam enquired.
“Good, good,” Reuben confirmed. “She’s about a month away from giving birth. It’s a bit tricky to say, being her first.”
Mum returned through the back door. I removed my headphones for a moment, to greet her.
“How have you been?”
“Good. I needed to fix the sign out the front of the dhole exhibit, it was coming loose. Nothing a nail gun couldn’t cure.”
Finally, I rejoined the conversation, which had become more heated in my absence.
“You can talk about a point of difference until you’re blue in the face. At the end of the day, we need to work as a region.”
“Well, I can’t disagree with that. Monarto Safari Park?”
“Thank you, Reuben,” Blessing responded. “Nothing for us this week.”
“Mogo Wildlife Park?”
“I have some news about our gorgeous baby boy,” Julie announced.
For a moment, I held my breath, concerned that something was wrong.
“We’re going to introduce him to his mother, Wasia, one on one,” she revealed. “We’ve made this decision for companionship purposes, gorilla to gorilla. I believe it is the best course of action for now, of the options we have available to us.”
“So does that mean Wasia will be removed from the troop?”
“Yes,” Julie confirmed. “It’s for the best. He’s still alive, and that’s the main thing.”
“That’s good, that’s really good to have mother and baby back together,” I affirmed.
My smile didn’t mean much, but hopefully it could silence some of the detractions.
“Thank you, Jumilah. I also wanted to speak with you about our siamangs.”
I sat forward a little, grateful that Julie had raised this issue. I’d planned to bring it up, but didn’t want to burden her if there were other matters on her mind. Being a species coordinator can be like walking along a tightrope, between pragmatism and sentimentality.
“There are options to export if you feel like you need the space, for siamangs or for other species,” I offered. “The EEP would be keen to take on males, London Zoo is without one at the moment.”
“I didn’t think London Zoo held siamang.”
“Oh, not at the moment, but they are keen to acquire the species, I’ve heard,” I informed them.
“You’ve been in touch with the species coordinator for the EEP?”
“Yes, I have been,” I confirmed, and Reuben raised his eyebrows with approval.
“Well, if you can get specific recommendations, that could be a great working relationship,” he confirmed. “Tasmania Zoo?”
“I’ve got some sad news to report, I’m afraid.” David’s moustache looked glummer than usual. “Our last mandrill has passed. The old girl’s heart gave out.”
My face fell. Outside, birds sang a mournful tune. I identified the tweeting as belonging to our male Gouldian Finches, in the aviary outside.
“That’s no good, David,” I spoke up.
I wondered why he hadn’t mentioned it during our morning phone call, but perhaps the death had occurred that suddenly. It wasn’t my place to pry for further details.
“Would you like to acquire more mandrill?”
Reuben, apparently, held no such concerns.
“No, not at this stage,” David answered. “I understand why some people might feel a bit upset about this. Tasmania Zoo is twenty years old this year. It’s been a sharp learning curve and a constant state of evolution.”
“That’s alright, we understand,” I spoke up.
“It would be valuable for Tasmania Zoo to support the resurrection of the regional program,” Reuben outlined. “This wouldn’t necessarily have to mean holding breeding animals.”
I hoped he wouldn’t be pig-headed about this, especially when chairing the meeting.
“You know we have a rainforest focus. I believe that is Adelaide Zoo’s position as well regarding their collection, or at least it should be.”
Isobel gave something of a nod, but I understood why she wouldn’t want to dip her toe into a dicey conversation.
“I just don’t think it’s necessary, personally, but I think this conversation has been done to death.”
Therefore, we somehow resolved to move on, or at the very least, kick the can down the road. Without Christine, there was no report from Wellington. Des, meanwhile, didn’t have anything to add to our discussion. Following the meeting I strode outside. I was in need of clear air, and didn’t want to be bothered by visitors, even though it was uncharitable of me to think that. Closing my eyes, I tried to picture a savannah. Giraffes and zebras and maybe even a rhino or two would be the classic species I would envisage, especially if they were afforded roomy habitats.
“Jumilah, come in, over,” Dad called over the radio.
I grunted, but grasped it anyway.
“Hi, Dad, this is Jumilah. I’m just off the zoo site behind the noc house. Do you need me to come over? Over.”
“Ah, yes, please,” he requested. “Over and out.”
I loosened my grip on my radio. Walking back into the zoo, I located Dad near the macaques.
“What’s the matter?” I asked him, a little breathless.
“Nothing’s the matter, I just wanted to talk to you. How was your meeting?”
“Do you mind doing a scatter feed for the macaques some time this arvo?” Dad requested.
“Of course, I would be happy to.”
It would be good enrichment for the troop.
“Do you know where the conference is this year?”
“What, would you like to come?”
“I’ll keep you out of trouble.”
Concern flashed across my face. I glanced away, so Dad wouldn’t notice.
“I’m not sure off the top of my head. It might be written in some newsletter somewhere, or they might not have announced it yet.”
He bobbed his head.
“You want to go, don’t you?”
“Yeah, of course, it would be good.”
I’d never told him about Hunter. There’s certain things fathers don’t need to know.
“Having relationships with the others, that’s always useful.”
“In growing the collection?”
“There are plenty of places we can source animals from. Whatever species those TAGs are saying we should add here, let’s start the conversation, let’s do it.”
“Are you trying to tell me you have friends in high places?”
“Well,” I agreed with a laugh.
I recalled the Kangaroo Island Kangaroos back at Healesville Sanctuary, with their chocolate-coloured fur. A few of them hopping around would be beautiful.
“Got much on your plate for this afternoon?” Dad checked.
“Yeah, a little bit. The scatter feed at the macaques, a carcass feed for the devils.”
“Well, I’ll leave you to it.”
I commenced the process of providing a scatter feed for the macaques. I pushed the food into the bucket. Once I’d wiped up and placed away the knife, I grasped the handle of the bucket and took it out into the zoo. My destination was the macaque exhibit, where I lured the troop into their night dens. With that, I was able to enter the outdoor enclosure. I scattered food around the space.
“Hi there, zookeeper,” a familiar female voice greeted me.
Glancing up into the visitor area, I identified the woman standing against the railing as Tallulah. She was still dressed in her work uniform.
“What can I do for you, my friend?” I asked, raising one hand to my forehead to shield out the sun.
With the other, I tipped out the scatter feed from the bucket into the exhibit.
“Oh, nothing much. I’ve just clocked off work, thought I’m come and say hi.”
Before I could answered, a startled animal let out a noise, like it accidentally fired. I startled at the squawk, slipping down into the moat.
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah,” I assured, pulling myself to my feet. “Never better.”
I flashed a sarcastic grin. Trudging through the grass, I avoided the macaque food.
“Just give me a second.”
Tallulah nodded. I let myself through the back-of-house area, opening and closing slides. Once the macaques were let back out into their outdoor enclosure, I rejoined Tallulah.
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
My jeans were a little damp, but I could cope with that.
“How are you more generally?” Tallulah enquired, her roundabout way of asking about the trial.
We walked up the path past the dholes.
“I remember that day so clearly,” I recalled, shaking my head. “It just seemed unbelievable.”
Joel’s death didn’t need to creep back into my body.
“Oh, I need to ask whether you want Thomas to come and perform a pregnancy test on Mawar.”
“Well, Doctor Thomas is welcome to come. I’m just need to say, I can do it myself. It’s not that difficult.”
“Or, I know we have a slot available on Wednesday morning, you could bring her in then for a full health check.”
“Is that your professional opinion?”
She shook her head.
“I’m only one year in. I don’t have a professional opinion.”
“You’re almost through your third semester.”
“True, true,” Tallulah conceded.
“I mean, I think of you as my head vet, anyway, so, considering that Doctor Thomas is willing to fit us in, then I’m sure we can do that.”
“Alright, I’ll let Thomas know.”
“I’m going to head to the devils, would you mind coming with me?” I requested.
“Sure,” Tallulah agreed.
We first detoured to the refrigerated feed shed – Dad’s choice, not mine. Retrieving my keys from my pocket, I tried a few, each which wouldn’t turn. Faintly I could hear the devils, growing impatient.
“Eventually I’ll remember which is the right one.”
I slotted the key into the lock, turning it and popping it open. Stepping inside, I fetched the meat for the Tasmanian Devils, ticking off on the whiteboard that I would complete the feed. Tallulah followed me back out. I ensured that the feed shed was locked again behind me, not wanting to compromise the refrigeration. The solar panels on its roof glimmered. I approached the nocturnal house and let the two of us in through a door, hidden somewhat by the quickly growing foliage. There, we ensured the door was locked. With Tasmanian Devils being dangerous animals, Tallulah and I needed to ensure that we were never in the same space as our sisters. I left their meat as a carcass feed. It would stay there for a couple of days while the devils gorged. Tallulah and I escorted ourselves out, locking the doors again. Then, we raised the slide between the indoor exhibit and the back-of-house holding area. The N girls – Nayri, November, Nipaluna and Niara – scampered over to devour their dinner.
“So, these were an N litter, and obviously Romeo’s from an R litter,” Tallulah mused.
“I’m not sure off the top of my head what letter they’re up to,” I admitted. “T, maybe? They cycle through them very quickly. Devils are very common in zoos and wildlife parks.”
Satisfied they were fed and safe, we headed home. Mum and Dad greeted Tallulah with fond smiles, as the television in the loungeroom softly played, a repeat of an interview with a survivor from the Beaconsfield mine. As such, a conversation commenced about my parents’ memories of the period while the miners were stuck. Apparently, it sticks in the mind of Tasmanians of the time.
“Oh, I don’t remember it, personally. I would have only been two.”
“I remember it, very clearly,” Dad chimed in. “It was big news for weeks and weeks. We were all so relieved when they got them out.”
Tallulah left for home, right in time for the nightly news. At least the breakfast program was national, hence why Bill’s trial might have piqued their interest. More than likely, there would be nothing about what had happened in court thus far. I dropped myself onto the lounge and allowed the lights of the television to wash over me. Almost fully dark outside, I heard the animals, like a drum beat underneath the melody of the newsreader’s stern voice.
“Jumilah.” Dad handed me a plate of dinner, a cheese and spinach roll with salad. “What do you think?”
“Oh, sorry,” I apologised. “What were you talking about?”
“Should we lobby for a bus route to the zoo?”
“Yeah, why not?” I confirmed. “It’s good to have public transport. It’s better for the environment and hopefully it will make the zoo even more accessible for visitors and, you know, we kind of need people to come.”
“Alright, I’ll start the process. I promise you.”
I finished off my dinner. Dad collected my plate to return it to the kitchen. The sports report commenced, including the selection of the Ashes squad. Jye had made the cut, although not Kyle, prompting outrage from the usual suspects. I couldn’t help but wonder whether this was a consequence for his actions. As soon as the bulletin concluded, my phone illuminated. The clock would have just struck five in Western Australia. I answered Isobel’s calling, albeit a little surprised she’d reached out.
I determined to listen more than I spoke, as Isobel recounted the events of the court case thus far.
“Would you like wine, Jumilah?” Mum called out from the kitchen, so I stood and moved into the open passageway, flashing a smile and a thumbs-up.
“I just hope we can set justice, but I know that doesn’t change what’s happened.”
“Oh, there’s something else I need to tell you. Harvey Myles, you know, you met him, he’s asked me out for dinner. Like, properly out for dinner, on a date.”
My throat felt dry. Sure, Joel had been dead for six months. Six months plus forty-eight hours ago, though, she had been accepting his proposal for marriage.
“I think that I might say yes.”
Staying quiet, I wondered if Isobel was asking for my opinion on the matter, which I couldn’t possibly provide.
“Well, that would be great.”
“Yeah, I agree,” Isobel affirmed, surrender in her tone.
We ended our call, the screen of my phone fading to black.
“Isobel just told me that she’s thinking of going on a date with one of the other primate keepers at Adelaide Zoo,” I informed Mum. “I wouldn’t have expected that.”
I downed my wine, passing the empty glass to Mum.
“Thank you, my dear,” she replied. “I think it’s bedtime.”
Smiling fondly, I kissed her cheek, then pulled myself up and migrated through the house. Finally, I crashed into bed.
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.