A Day at the Zoo

This is my story about the day I was in the right place at the right time, and my byline went from being Neil Morris, junior (not cub—I hate animals) reporter, to Neil Morris, actual real thing reporter. Or something like that.

Nothing happens in our small outback town. Occasionally I have to report on a fight between two FIFO miners, or go and talk to an environmentalist about fracking, but nothing major happens.

At uni my lecturer told me to do my stint on the local rag, and later, when I had some experience, one of the city papers might look at me. The Sydney Herald or the Brisbane Gazette—I didn’t care where. I just had to survive a few years of dingo issues and men in fluoro jackets.

It was a regular Tuesday when I went off with Steve, the camera guy, to cover the opening of a new zoo. It was a lunatic place for one. Our town is populated by guys on mining rosters, and there is literally no tourism, but some rich guy had made it his pet project. It was bound to be shit.

I had resigned myself to walking around a few koala enclosures, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it a bit bigger than that, and with a wider range of animals (not that I cared, but it gave me more stuff to talk about on camera). The only excitement for the day was that a few local pollies were in town for talks with the mining guys, and they had promised to come to the zoo for a photo op.

I could see them further down the path, so me and Steve set up and waited for them to come over the panda bridge, as everyone likes a bloody panda.

Anyway, there I am, looking sharp in my suit—even though it was, like, forty degrees—and two guys behind me start having a barney.

I nodded to Steve to start filming, as that kind of stuff can always end up entertaining.

“You’re a thief and a scumbag!” One of the guys was shoving the other, and I suddenly realised it was my neighbour, Dave.

“I never took it!” the other guy was saying.

“I want my bicycle back!” Dave was now holding the other guy up against the railing and, before anyone could stop him, he started dangling him over the edge. “So help me, I will feed you to the bloody pandas if you don’t give it back.”

There was a scuffle, and I kind of thought at the time I should have done something, but they were both pretty big and sweaty, and I was wearing that suit I told you about.

Next thing I know, Dave dropped his mate into the enclosure. I don’t think he meant to, as he started leaning over the edge and wailing things like “Jonno, I’m sorry! I thought you were holding on!” and crying a lot.

Anyway, we ran over to the edge—and by this time the zookeeper guys and a crowd of other people had come over too—and looked down to see a panda holding on to Jonno’s blue singlet.

“It’s gonna eat me!” he was yelling. “Oh Christ almighty! The panda’s gonna eat me!”

We all jumped a mile at a sudden gunshot, and the panda slumped away, letting go of Jonno. A zookeeper guy with a rifle had just shot ChiChi right between the eyes.

There was a big scuffle, and Jonno got reunited with Dave, who didn’t stop hugging him and telling him to forget about the bicycle.

I did the only thing a journo could do, and that was to start interviewing everyone. Luckily the politicians were only too happy to say what they thought.

“A tragedy has been avoided today,” said one, “but the real tragedy is why these men are drunk and fighting in our zoos on a Tuesday morning. We have to re-examine the conditions of FIFO workers.”

“Of course a tragedy hasn’t been avoided!” Another looked aghast. “An endangered animal has been killed for no good reason. Caging animals is just the start of our disregard towards their lives.”

“I think we need better engineering, to stop people going over the enclosures.” The mining CEO was nodding agreement with his own statement. “And more women in engineering too.” He looked at the lone female politician with a smile, but she didn’t return it.

“I hate to point out the obvious,” she said, “but pandas are Asian. Now, we must ask ourselves, would this tragedy have been prevented if we controlled immigration better?”

At this point Steve was zooming for a close-up on ChiChi, who was lying there like an exploded pavlova.

“I think we’re all saying the same thing.” Another pollie joined in. “This is yet another example of morbid obesity leading to premature death. Could ChiChi have got out of the way of the gun if she was a bit more nimble? This is the very real danger our children face on the streets.”

The flies were buzzing like crazy by then, and my shirt was stuck to my back. I held the mike out to the guy with the gun, who was looking at his boots.

“I meant to get her leg,” he said. “I didn’t mean to kill her. A tranq wouldn’t have worked fast enough.”

“Would legalising firearms and improving training have saved this creature’s life?” A pollie spread his arms. “We need an inquiry.”

I wrapped up things at the zoo, and headed home to shower before going back to the office. My editor was pretty happy, and even gave me a carton of beer for my efforts.

I hope Dave never notices the bike in my yard.

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