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Yesterday

The jungle around the tiger and otter exhibits provides me with calm. There has been plenty of time to grow these trees at Melbourne Zoo. I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to replicate Sumatra, on the outskirts of Hobart. I’d like to try, though, to honour Kakek’s legacy in caring for animals. Reuben and I headed to the tiger exhibit first thing this morning, as the vets were preparing for a procedure.


“Our Sumatran Tiger, Indra, is ten years old.”


It seemed to get even darker overhead. Fat drops of rain started to fall through the canopy.


“Today, we have a vet dentist visiting to perform a root canal. When I get the call over the radio from Emmie, I’m going to go into the dens and dart Indra. Any questions?”


Nobody responded. The call came from Emmie, quietly, over the radio, so Meredith took the tranquiliser gun and slipped behind the scenes. My heart thudded within my chest. She would be fine. This is not a threat. I expected a bang, which never came. After I heard a zip, Meredith emerged from the back-of-house corridor.


“The dart landed in just the right spot.”


Reuben nodded his head.


“Now we’ve just got to wait for her to go to sleep.”


We stood around, trying to find a little bit of shelter from the rain.


“Alright, Meredith, I think she’s out to it,” came Emmie’s call over the radio.


“Thanks, we’ll come through.”


I followed Reuben, Meredith and the other keepers and vets into the back-of-house area, where we joined Emmie. Sure enough, Indra lay still on the floor. Meredith poked the end of the pole through the mesh. With no response to the prod, we were able to enter. Meredith crouched down next to Indra. She reached for the right equipment, tubes and tape, and I tried to trace what she was doing, even though this sort of work would be left to vets. Meredith placed the tube down Indra’s throat. Once she was intubated smoothly, everybody could breathe a sigh of relief. Meredith inserted a needle into Indra’s skin.


“I’m just taking a blood sample,” she explained. “We’ll be able to test this and compared with her last health check.”


About an hour later, the procedures were over. The rest of us exited the dens, except for Meredith, who gave the reversal drugs. Then she left, making sure to lock the door behind her. Emmie remained in the raceway, sitting down against the wall, so that she could monitor Indra. As I departed with the others, the tiger was starting to wake up and gingerly walk around. With Indra safely returned to her dens, I scampered back to Reuben’s cottage to grab myself a coffee. He was sitting at his desk, headphones on, looking at his laptop, so I tried to stay as quiet as possible. I made myself a coffee, then ambled back out to the loungeroom, where Reuben placed himself on mute and removed his headphones.


“I’m in Aus mammals, do you want to join?”


“Yeah, alright,” I agreed.


I pulled up a chair, as Reuben unplugged his headphones so that I could hear, too.


“Excuse me, sorry, I’ve just got Jumilah Fioray with me,” he introduced.


“Hello,” I greeted them with a wave.


After that, Reuben placed us on mute. We mostly observed throughout the rest of the TAG meeting. Some of the faces were familiar, especially from the bird TAG. I suspected, as the meeting came to a close, that they would have been the two most populous groups.


“Are marine mammals part of Australian mammals?”


“No, there’s an aquatic TAG, that’s penguins and marine mammals and the like.”


“Right.”


I sipped my coffee.


“When are those meetings held?”


“Fortnightly, Thursday mornings at nine,” Reuben answered, “but I don’t go to those ones, Beth attends on our behalf. I’m sure you could convince her to let you join in with her if you’d like.”


I tilted my head from side to side, pondering the idea.


“What are you doing next?”


“I’m spending the afternoon with Vel.”


“Nice.”


“How about you?”


“I’ve got more admin work to do.”


“Have fun,” I told him, my tone a little sarcastic.


Once I finished my coffee, I rinsed the mug and placed it upside down, then departed the cottage. I arrived at the giant tortoise exhibit, grateful that the rain had ceased.


“Hello,” I greeted Vel, flipping back the hood of my jacket.


“Come on in,” he urged, getting up to open the gate for me, so that I could enter the tortoise exhibit.


The large, slow animals were little danger of escaping, while I slipped through.


“Sorry, the grass is a touch wet.”


“That’s OK.”


Vel introduced me to each of the tortoises. I nodded, taking in the information, trying to focus on the task at hand.


“Just make sure that you turn the scales on,” Vel requested, with a smile which indicated he’d made that mistake before.


I pressed the button and the display flashed, before reading 0.0.


“Alright, they’re on,” I confirmed.


With colourful fruit, Vel lured one of the tortoises on. I wrote down the weight reading.


“Good work,” Vel praised both of us.


We did the same until all of the tortoises were weighed. Isaac wandered over, leaning on the fence and sticking his arms over.


“Oh, a mate sent me a photo of a painted lady from his twitching adventures.”


“A what now?” I remarked.


Isaac showed me the picture of the butterfly on his phone. I nodded, fascinated by the image and the new pieces of information I was taking on.


“I did not realise that the Painted Lady was a butterfly species.”


“It is,” he confirmed. “They’re from Queensland. I’m not sure if there are any in zoos.”


Once Isaac left, so did Vel and I. We came across Emmie, approaching from the other direction. When she reached us, she wrapped her arms around her fiancé’s waist.


Emmie pecked Vel on the lips.


“Want to come over to the lions?”


“Yeah, sure.”


With a giggle, Emmie looked at me.


“I was actually asking Jumilah,” she admitted, then smiled towards Vel again, “but you’re welcome to.”


The three of us headed over to the lion exhibit, where the two boys hadn’t been put away for the night.


“These males will probably stay here for the rest of their lives.”


Vel and Emmie ensured that they had food and access to their night dens. The brothers, therefore, decided to saunter inside.


“Alright, we’re heading home.”


“See you later.”


I returned home to Reuben’s cottage, where he was enjoying a cup of coffee and a rare rest.


“How was your afternoon?”


“A bit tortuous to be honest,” Reuben answered. “I’m hoping yours was much better.”


“Yeah, I had a good afternoon,” I confirmed. “Vel and I were weighing the tortoises.”


I sat down next to Reuben on the lounge.


“Can I ask?”


“We had a special meeting about the pygmy hippo program and the ungulate import ban. I probably didn’t need to be there, but I’m trying to keep my fingers in all the pies.”


“That’s fair enough. What was the gist from the meeting?”


“Unless we overturn the import ban, the program’s toast.”


“Do you think that you’ll be able to overturn the ban?” I wanted to know.


Reuben shrugged his shoulders, but he seemed resigned.


“The thing that’s different now is that a number of zoos want this to happen. It’s crunch time.”


“Is it just the open range zoos, Melbourne and Taronga?”


“And Adelaide.”


“Of course.”


“They want pygmies for the African precinct. I’m impressed by their plans.”


“Well, what do you think about tapirs?”


“Malayans go blind, we’re never going to breed them in the region.”


“We’re going to have an indoor building, you could do something similar, although it would need to be on a large scale.”


“You had that moment with Melita, didn’t you?”


“Yeah, I did, and I genuinely think that we would be able to make this work. We’re constructing a nocturnal house for exotic species, as well as Tassie devils, I reckon we’d be able to house tapirs.”


“I mean, theoretically--.”


“If a tapir exhibit is indoor, do they need night dens? I suppose it would be useful for housing surplus animals?”


“Yeah, I think that would be helpful. I would have to check back with the husbandry requirements, but they might not have considered that.”


“So, you’re on board with the idea.”


“Well, I’m on board with the idea in principle. You wouldn’t be able to house such a large animal indoors indefinitely, I don’t feel. Besides, we’re not importing any more Malayans into the region. Brazilians, sure, but the ship has sailed for Malayans because of the eye problems and you know that.”


“If you did have an outdoor area--.”


“Which I think you’d have to.”


“It would have to be heavily shaded. Perhaps you could use that place for another species during the day.”


“Maybe. I still think it would be easier to get serious about Brazilians.”


“Yeah, I see where you’re coming from,” I conceded. “You could house Brazilians both here and at Werribee, I reckon.”


“They wouldn’t at Werribee, I’d love to here, though.”


“Alright.”


“Mogo’s keen, they’ve housed them in the past. Adelaide and Darling Downs are both trying to breed, or want to in the near future.”


Reuben got up from the lounge.


“So, what is going to happen with the pygmy hippo program?”


“Like I said, it’ll depend on the IRA.”


 

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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