Updated: Mar 31, 2022
Perth Zoo is expecting its first elephant calf. It’s definitely an exciting time to have a new founder contributing to the breeding program, and it’ll be wonderful for the people of Perth. They don’t have a large elephant group – only the two cows, one of whom is elderly, and their breeding bull. To have a baby on the way is something of a miracle in and of itself, given it has been a long time coming. This morning after waking up, I watched a video on Instagram. Charlotte – beautiful and camera-ready as ever – was explaining how they monitor the pregnancy through ultrasounds and blood tests.
“We then send those samples to the lab. They will be able to tell us when to expect our elephant calf.”
The video switched to an office setting, where a zoo vet was explaining a graph on his computer.
“This charts the hormone levels. When they drop, that’s when she’ll be going into labour soon.”
The sun was yet to rise, so I dressed myself quickly into warmer clothes and went outside to go for a walk. It occurred to me after a little while that I ought to have left a note for Mum and Dad, to assure them that I was alright, but I’d left it too late to turn back. I forwarded a link to the elephant video to the group chat with my work buddies. Instead of waiting around for a response, I had a shower and changed into clothes to wear to the wildlife carer course. My phone beeped and I reached for it to take a look.
That’s so cool Jumilah; Patrick messaged back.
I heart-reacted to the message, then walked out towards the front of the house, where Mum and Dad were ready to go.
“We’re off to the wildlife carer course. We’ll be back this afternoon.”
“Enjoy,” Uwak Andrew farewelled us.
When we parked out the front of Carol’s place, I could see pademelons in the yard. I presumed that they would have been ones she’s caring for. After knocking on the frame of the screen door, Carol called out for us to come in. We walked through the house and found her out the back, various animals all around the place.
“These are chocolate wattled bats.” Carol opened the cage at the end of her dining room, with sunlight shining in through the window. “They were rescued from a fire.”
“I’m feeding three times a day and twice overnight at this stage. It’s a labour of love, that’s for sure.”
Some others arrived, and we started the course.
“Thank you for coming here today. We will be learning about animal care. The duty of the animal carer is to rehabilitate rescued animals until they can be released back into the wild. Unfortunately, in some sad circumstances, that’s not possible.”
We each had a printed manual on our laps. I tried to keep my thoughts on what was in front of me.
“Our first module is handrearing. When you’re starting off, we’ll try not to give you too many orphans, but sometimes sadly it’s inevitable.”
As if on cue, a pademelon hopped across the room.
“I’m looking for a volunteer.”
I rapidly stood up to offer.
“Alright, come up the front here, please.” I followed Carol’s instruction. “Jumilah, isn’t it?”
I nodded my head.
“Come on, Boonie,” Carol urged, speaking to the pademelon. “Jumilah, this is Boonie, and you’re going to feed him to demonstrate. Take a seat.”
My heart started to beat faster as she placed Boonie into my arms.
“Boonie came in as a pinkie, his mother had been hit by a car and killed.”
Carol handed over the bottle.
“You’re doing a good job, you cradle him, not too tightly, and present the bottle for him.”
Boonie didn’t need much encouragement, gripping the bottle for himself and starting to suckle. I felt proud of myself, even though he was doing most of the work.
“Sometimes you will have to feed animals special food, other than formula. This information will be covered in your manuals and you will be provided with support at the beginning."
Boonie hopped off my lap. I returned to my seat, while he returned to his bedding, to rest after his feed. I’d learned something for sure.
“For many hand-reared orphans, they will need to be stimulated for toileting.”
Carol reached for a dark-coloured object.
“This is an echidna. Well, this is not actually a real echidna, but in Tasmania, echidnas can be hit by cars.”
Carol turned the fake echidna upside-down.
“First aid is important, both when raising an animal, but during disasters such as bushfires. During these crises, animal carers can play a vital role.”
I glanced across the room at the others.
“Have you ever cared for an echidna before?”
“Yes, I have cared for an echidna, but she died.”
A sombre silence came over the room.
“I think it’s time to break for morning tea.”
We paused for a cup of tea, before returning to our learning.
“It is important to be in touch with a vet hospital, but you do need to learn skills to decide when to take the animal in. It’s crucial that the animals in your care have access to medical care when needed, but at the same time, it’s not feasible to be constantly taking your animals to the vet.”
“What happens if they need medications?” someone wanted to know.
“It will be the vets who prescribe your animals with any medications which they might need, including antibiotics, and it’s important to keep to the schedule of medication which is required. Could I please have a volunteer?”
This time, I wasn’t the first to raise their hand. A middle-aged woman with curly hair went up the front, to give a syringe to a soft toy.
“Some animals you’ll care for might be dangerous animals.”
We moved onto the next page in the book.
“You’ll need to decide whether your limits are.”
I noticed something of a wry smile on Mum’s lips. She probably considers the dangerous animals here nothing, compared to the tigers her parents once cared for and released.
“Alright, it’s time for questions.”
“What’s the most unusual animal you’ve cared for?”
“Unusual in terms of endangered? Well, come with me.”
Carol headed towards the door, so the group stood and followed her. We walked out into the backyard, where a bird was in an aviary.
“This is an orange-bellied parrot, he’s almost ready for release. Hopefully once this weather clears, he’ll be able to go back into the wild.”
A beautiful animal, the bird brought a smile to my lips.
“What’s the strangest animal you’ve cared for?”
“Well, we did have a seal pup. One washed up on the beach, poor little thing. I have no idea how it survived.”
At the end of the day, Carol signed our certificates, confirming that all three of us had successfully completed the wildlife carer course. Others took theirs, thanked her, then left. Mum, Dad and I were the final group.
“Now, Jumilah, with yours, I’ll have to hold onto it for now, until you’re eighteen. After your birthday in a couple of weeks, you can come over and collect it and officially be certified as a wildlife carer. I’m really sorry for the inconvenience.”
“Listen, there’s something I need you to know.”
“Don’t just see this as a hop, skip and a jump to having lions, tigers and bears.”
“I’ve heard that you’re planning a zoo. Everyone in the local area has heard about your rezoning application. It’s noble, but don’t get distracted. There are plenty of local animals, and local birds, right here in Tasmania which desperately need conservation and care.”
“I would like to house species that aren’t Australian too, but both. My grandparents ran a sanctuary in Sumatra, so primates and Sumatran animals are very important to me.”
“I’m sure that, whatever animals you’re caring for, you’ll do well if you’re able to obtain them. You’ll be a good wildlife carer, too, when the time comes.”
We left Carol’s house. I sat in the back.
“Have you had a think about getting your green Ps once you turn eighteen?” Dad wanted to know.
“I can drive, I just don’t like to,” I admitted. “I’m happy riding my bike. Of course, it’s not always that convenient, but I do my best.”
“What do you have to do to get your green Ps?”
“Well, I need to turn eighteen first. Then, I can go to Services Tasmania and get the new licence, or do it online. It’s pretty simple.”
We arrived back home. Before Tallulah came over, I decided to run myself a bath to relax. I put the plug in and turned the tap on, trying to balance the temperature between warm and scalding. The smell of lavender relaxed me as I tipped in bath salts. Finally, once the bath filled up, I took off my clothes and got in. I took a deep breath, chest rising and falling, hair pulled back to stop it from getting too wet. Even though the door was closed, I could hear somebody vacuuming. I closed my eyes and ducked my face underneath the surface of the water. When I got out of the bath, I got changed into casual clothes, then checked my phone. Tallulah wouldn’t be far away to come over and have dinner with us. I could smell the delicious food which Mum was cooking. Pumpkin soup simmered away, to be blended up and served with a dollop of cream on the top once it was ready. When I heard a knock at the front door, I scampered through the house, answering it to let Tallulah inside.
“Thanks for having me.”
“Hi, Tallulah,” Mum greeted. “How are you going? Would you like something to drink?”
“A glass of water would be lovely, thank you.”
“Coming right up,” Mum assured with a grin.
She procured the drink, while Tallulah and I moved out to the loungeroom. We took up our positions in front of the computer, to book our trip.
“Well.” Tallulah leaned back in the chair. “What do you think about flying in on Friday night?”
“I suppose the first question is whether we fly or whether we drive and get the ferry across.”
“I’d thought that we’d fly, for a shorter trip, but if we need the car--.”
“Do you know where your biological father lives, Tallulah?”
“It says on his Facebook that he lives in Prahran.”
“Mum used to live in Melbourne when she first moved to Australia.”
Uwak Andrew emerged.
“I’m not sure if the two of you have met. Tallulah, Andrew, Andrew, Tallulah. This is my uncle, this is my best friend from school.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
We sat down to eat our dinner of pumpkin soup.
“What keeps you busy during the week, Tallulah?” Andrew wanted to know.
“Well, I’ve just started studying vet science at uni, and I play Wordle--.”
Uwak Andrew’s expression lit up.
“There are all sorts of different games you can play.”
“Jumilah and I play in Indonesian. It’s good fun.”
I peeled myself away from the conversation, as I could hear my phone ringing.
“Hello, Jumilah Fioray speaking.”
“Hi, Jumilah, it’s Claire here from Taronga Western Plains. Do you have a moment?”
“Yes, I do,” I confirmed.
“I’m sorry to say that Ratu’s had a medical episode.”
My hand moved to my mouth.
“We’ve brought her up to her wildlife hospital where we’ll keep her overnight, so that we can do some tests and scans in the morning. She’s being kept warm and monitored with her fluids up.”
“Will she be alright?”
“We’re not sure, I’m sorry. I’ll call again tomorrow once we know more.”
“Thanks, thanks for letting me know.”
We ended the call. I didn’t really know what else to say. When I wandered back to the others, they were looking at me with expectation.
“I’ve got bad news, I’m afraid,” I announced. “That was Claire, you know, from Dubbo, and she said that Ratu’s not well. She had a fall in the exhibit and they’ve taken her to the vet hospital for monitoring overnight, and they’ll probably give X-rays and take blood tests in the morning. They don’t know what’s wrong.”
“That’s dreadful,” Mum murmured, raising one hand to her mouth.
“Would you like me to ring Nanek?”
“Look, wait until the morning to call her,” Uwak Andrew suggested.
“I don’t want to have kept her in the dark.”
“Karti,” Uwak Andrew warned, “it’ll be fine.”
He sighed heavily, then ran his fingers through his hair. I thought Uwak Andrew might have regretted his somewhat sharp tone. We all decided that we would go to bed. Tallulah left. Things might be better in the morning, or they might not. On Monday, we will have another meeting at the council chambers. I went to sleep with a heavy heart.
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.