This morning I awoke to an eerily quiet house, which normally wouldn’t have bothered me. I rolled onto my side, reaching for my phone as I got out of bed. Walking over to the door, I pulled on my zoo uniform, then exited the room, where I encountered Whitlam.
“Do you know if Hamish came home last night?”
Whitlam took a step, glancing down into Hamish’s room.
“The bed’s still made. I don’t think so.”
I nodded my head, still a little sleepy. Jamila emerged from her bedroom too, herself also already dressed into her Werribee Open Range Zoo uniform.
“Are we talking about Hamish?”
“Yeah, I haven’t heard from him. Have you?” I asked, and Jamila shook her head in response.
“Anyway. We’ll go to work and hope he’s still there.”
I figured that Whitlam hadn’t gotten much sleep. Therefore, we left the house, only three of us in the car on the way to the zoo. Jamila parked in the staff carpark and, as we emerged into the spring sun, I noticing Hamish ambling towards us. He showed me his phone, with a photo of a tiny baby vervet monkey on the screen, clinging to its mother’s chest.
“Finally born early this morning.”
“Aw, that’s beautiful,” I gushed.
Hamish withdrew his phone. The bags under his eyes were obvious.
“All going well?”
We all signed in, then Whitlam and I went straight to the office, while Hamish and Jamila dispersed to get to work. I felt a little awkward, waiting for him as he worked at the computer, glancing over my shoulder to anyone coming and going to see if I was able to tag along with someone else to actually get some work done out in the zoo. Finally, Whitlam shut down the computer.
“Is there something which you’d like me to do?” I offered.
“Yes,” Whitlam agreed. “You can come with me. We’re going to the Tahki paddock.”
He stood, as did I, and I followed him out of the office, grateful to feel spring sun against my face. When we arrived at the off-show paddock, it was obvious that there was one female isolated from the group who appeared to be limping. Whitlam reached for his radio and raised it to his lips.
“Whitlam to vet team, could we have one of you to Tahkis please, over?” he requested.
“Yeah, I’ll be there,” Bailey confirmed.
We waited. I felt fidgety after the events of the previous day, even though it wouldn’t have been uncommon for older Takhi to experience foot problems. Bailey arrived shortly after. He squatted by the fence, observing Ishtar’s hooves.
“Yeah, we’re going to have to knock her out.”
I swallowed hard, feeling a little nervous about having to work with equine anaesthetics again. Hopefully this would have a better outcome. I stayed with Whitlam. We mainly needed to stay out of the way while the vets performed the procedure. Bailey loaded the dart into the gun. He fired, hitting her rump with precision. We waited for Ishtar to go down, which seemed to be taking some time. Eventually, she was unconscious, allowing us to enter the paddock. Whitlam placed a towel over her eyes.
“Jumilah, I’d like you to monitor her respiration. Let us know if anything changes.”
I nodded. While I watched the monitor, I attempted to regulate my own breathing as well. There was a pungent smell to the procedure, but thankfully it was over relatively quickly. Bailey applied the reversal drugs. He was the last to emerge from the paddock, having removed the towel from Ishtar’s eyes. I found myself holding my breath for a moment. Finally, she was back on her feet and able to safely rejoin the others. We detoured on our way back from the Takhi area. I wanted to check in at the vervet exhibit, both with Hamish, and on the new baby. While I went back-of-house, Whitlam got back to his own work. I made sure to stay as quiet as possible, as I encountered Hamish, sipping on a coffee.
We stood in relative silence for a moment, watching the animals. There was an intimacy to being away from the crowds.
“You know, you can tell the subspecies from their brows and the colour of the tips of their tails.”
I didn’t know that previously, but I thought that it was neat. Hamish went on to explain that the Werribee vervets could possibly be hybrid stock, which of course would still be bred in a number of zoos. I could see the issue from both perspectives. Allowing an ageing group to die out provided the zoo with display animals to fill the exhibit, plus it cut down on the risks of travel, especially if another region didn’t want to take in surplus animals to their requirements. At the same time, it wasn’t necessarily in the best interests for the animals’ welfare.
“It’s a tricky decision.”
“Oh, it always seems to be the case.”
A familiar voice was followed by the sound of footsteps. As Hamish finished his coffee, the two of us glanced over our shoulders.
“Oh, hi Alex, how are you?”
I hadn’t had too many opportunities to spend time with him since I’d been around at Werribee, unfortunately.
“I’m alright, I’m alright,” he assured with a smile.
“Never been better, mate,” Hamish remarked.
I didn’t appreciate the back and forth, even though I wouldn’t have said anything. Eventually, I made myself scarce. There was always someone who could find me something to do, even though there had been limits placed on the roles that I was able to play. I returned to the Werribee staff quarters, hearing the sound of typing from within the offices. For a little bit I needed to further indulge my identity as the work experience kid, manning the phones. A call came through shortly after.
“Hello, Werribee Open Range Zoo, this is Jumilah Fioray speaking.”
“Oh, hi, Jumilah. Would you possibly be able to come down with a key? Our boys have just come back from lunch and it seems someone’s locked the gate and nobody’s got a key.”
I felt a little embarrassed. There was no way that I would be able to provide them with a key. My eyes scanned around the offices. Thankfully, Des arrived. In a hushed tone, I was able to inform him of my predicament.
“They should have locked the gate and taken their keys with them.”
I was aware of that fact already, but I didn’t point that out – I didn’t believe it was my place. Thankfully, Des sorted out the situation. The end of the day crept up on me, so I knew that it would be time to go home. I lingered at the gorilla exhibit, which is near the front public entrance. It’s a large, sloped exhibit, massive for just the one silverback and his two, almost-grown sons from Melbourne. They would likely live the rest of their lives out in that enclosure.
“Are you right to head home?”
“Yeah,” I confirmed, so Jamila and I signed out and walked back to the carpark.
She unlocked the car.
“Are the guys coming with us?”
“No, not today,” Jamila answered. “They can make their own way home.”
We got into the car. I fastened my seatbelt, feeling like something was wrong. Jamila simply started the ignition and drove. I didn’t ask any questions. Instead, I looked out the window and watched the world go by. Jamila was approaching the last roundabout before we got home. I noticed that there was another car coming from the right, but she sped up rather than slowing down. The back wheel just clipped the edge of the roundabout. I gasped as I checked the rear-vision mirror, as the other car sailed past behind us. Jamila beamed towards me, although her smile soon fell.
“Are you alright?” she checked.
“You’re more of a rev-head than I thought,” I replied.
It wasn’t long before we were parked in the driveway again. I breathed out.
“I’m sorry, Jumilah,” Jamila apologised, and we headed inside the house for a drink.
“You wouldn’t believe that, would you, Jumilah?” Whitlam enquired.
I sipped my beer, even though it didn’t stop me from feeling incredibly sober.
“Nope,” I rejected. “I definitely wouldn’t believe that. You and the French zebra swindler, on the other hand, that I would firmly believe.”
“Well, now you’re just taking the mickey.”
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.