Human nature... Gleen enjoys wine or beer after a day at Taronga Zoo. Photo: Domino Postiglione
Wendy Gleen loves potoroo wine, which is not to say she's into drinking fermented marsupials. The Taronga zookeeper is referring to a limited-edition series of wines from Western Australia's Jingalla winery sold to raise funds for the conservation of the most endangered native mammal in Australia, Gilbert's potoroo.
Small native mammals are Gleen's area of interest and she's passionate about potoroos of all persuasions, not to mention bilbies, bush rats, striped possums, phascogales, quolls and more. She refuses to choose favourites and describes her charges as variously ''beguiling'', ''underrated'', ''quirky'' and ''funky little dudes''.
She has had all sorts of remarkable encounters with the tiny hoppers and jumpers over the years, including hand-raising a long-nosed potoroo named Eddy. Eddy used to attend staff meetings with Gleen and ''he was a natural-born clown,'' she says. ''You could always tell when he was in the office because you would hear people laughing.''
Gleen spends most of her time working in the zoo's nocturnal house, which is artificially lit when it's dark outside so its residents sleep, and dimmed when the sun comes up so visitors can see them awake and in action. When the zookeepers arrive early in the morning, many animals are still out to it, including the bilbies.
One of the first times Gleen lifted up a log to wake a sleeping bilby, she thought something terrible must have happened to it during the night. Its ears were missing.
''I was convinced something catastrophic had happened,'' she says. ''All I could see was this little wrinkly bit of tissue. But then the bilby got up and started moving around, and it was like it had some kind of little internal foot pump that pumped its ears back up.''
As it turns out, ear deflation is a normal bilby sleeping practice. It's not widely known, Gleen says, but it's presumed to be a way they keep themselves warm.
''We also find [sleeping bilbies] lying flat out on their backs, with their little legs and noses going,'' she says. Bilbies twitch when they're dreaming, just like dogs.
Zoo work involves early mornings and Gleen is also undertaking coursework for a master's degree - looking at how bush rats use lantana-infested areas - so her leisure time is fairly curtailed.
''If I'm lucky enough to have the weekend off, I like to have a couple of beers on the deck at home,'' she says. ''And as a conservationist I try to drink Australian beer, but I also love a Peroni.''
Gleen's father maintains a substantial wine cellar but his daughter says she can't maintain a cellar because any bottles she buys seem to demand to be enjoyed before she can get them into storage. Her whole family appreciates good food and wine.
Gleen's favourite red is Morris Durif and she recently enjoyed a bottle of the '97 vintage from her dad's cellar. When she mentions the wine, there's a spontaneous cheer from colleagues sitting nearby. The Rutherglen red, it seems, is a popular drop with the zoo crowd.