Circus protesters dispute ringleader's claims

UPDATE: ANIMAL activist group Justice for Captives has hit back at claims by the Stardust Circus' ringmaster, painting a  different picture of the protest that took place on the opening night.

Group member Angela Banovic refuted Adam St James' comments that the group had made a grandmother and granddaughter who were attending the circus cry and that they were yelling into car windows.

"There was no grandmother or grandchild who walked passed us, we didn't even speak with any customers," she said.

"The only person we engaged with was a staff member of Stardust Circus, he was swearing at us and threatened to vandalise one of the protester's private property."

Ms Banovic also responded to Mr St James' comments  the protesters had breached their Police Approval, as the group had used megaphones rather than loud speakers.

"We didn't breach the Police Approval, it noted loud speakers not a megaphone. The megaphone I used was a small, hand-held, portable megaphone," she said.

"The Coffs Harbour Police know that I follow the rules, I have been protesting in Coffs Harbour since 2014. I respect the law and the police department and we have never had any issues."

The group will hold another three protests this Friday and over weekend, stating the animals are used as "slaves" for human entertainment.

Meanwhile, Stardust Circus have extended their stay in the town by an extra week.


FRIDAY 1PM: THE opening night of Stardust Circus should have been an exciting experience for many locals but patrons were met with 'despicable behaviour'  by protesters which left some in tears.

Earlier in the day, a group of protesters from CHEETA held signs outside the showground in a peaceful demonstration. However as the night drew close, a radical group of animal activists known as Justice for Captives began a rally outside the gates.

Ringleader of Stardust Circus, Adam St James, said in his 20 years in the circus he had never seen more despicable behaviour.

"It makes me so angry and upset to have to put up with this type of behaviour. A lady had come in with her granddaughter crying. She came in tears because of what the protesters had said to her outside, a man and a woman had screamed at them through megaphones," he said.

"They received police approval for their protest but it says they are not allowed to approach or harass the visitors, nor use megaphones. We had a man try to calm them down because they were disturbing nearby businesses.

"I've contacted the police because they harassed our visitors, going against their permit."

The group, which has the backing of PETA, is said to be the same notorious group that protested against the Pet Porpoise Pool, as well as Sea World.

"They were screaming into the windows of cars that were coming into the circus. If you want to protest and hold signs, that's fine, but not when it comes to harassing the patrons.

"Coffs Harbour needs to know what type of idiots are out here representing their city, I've never seen such behaviour like this before."

Staff at the Stardust Circus were unaware that the protest was going to take place.

The circus, which travels all around the country, has been faced with many protests in the past in places such as Gladstone and Port Macquarie for the use of animals in the show.

Despite the controversy, Mr St James said ticket sales had exceeded expectation, with more tickets sold here than in Port Macquarie.

THURSDAY 4PM: The protest against Stardust Circus was in full swing this afternoon, as animal rights activists gathered outside the Coffs Showgrounds after 3pm.

Despite it being a small crowd of around 15, a lot of response was elicited from those driving by with some beeping horns in agreement and others yelling their disagreement from car windows.

Animals rights activist Judi Coward, the driving force behind the protest, said that the circus is well-managed that was far from the point being made.

"We know they're not hurting the animals, no one has disputed how well the circus is run," she said.

"Today we're here because we're totally against circus' retaining exotic animals. We believe exotic animals should be in a natural environment performing natural behaviours and not performing learned tricks.

"Every wildlife expert and organisation will tell you it doesn't matter how many generations are born in captivity, they never lose their fundamental intrinsic wild nature."

The protesters are hoping that as a result of the rally, the Showground Trust will not allow entertainment that involves "exploiting" animals on their grounds.

"We would like the Showground Trust to put a ban on any form of entertainment exploiting animals. Where they objectify them, that's where we would like to see Showground Trust take an ethical stand. We'd like to see Coffs Harbour coming to the fore and getting to the modern day thought and making a stand."

Circus ringleader Adam St James was seen keeping an eye on the protest. Mr St James earlier exhaustedly revealed that the circus had seen many protests.

"We've invited many of them to come and have a look at the animals and see how they are, but they don't want to. They've made up their mind, that's all there is to it. Where do we go from here?

"They've got their ideas and they're set in their ways. Unfortunately, ignorance is bliss."

THURSDAY 11AM: Protesters will today gather outside Coffs Showgrounds at 3pm to picket the opening night of Stardust Circus due to their use of exotic animal performers.

The protest, which has been dubbed Coffs Speak Out, will be a peaceful demonstration involving different community groups including CHEETA and the general public.

The opening night of the circus will begin around 7pm, and is expected to have a healthy turnout despite the controversy.

"The Showground Trust have given permission for this to occur and we are not very happy about it," said animal activist Judi Coward.

"We're not saying the animals are being treated cruelly, or sitting there being whipped. But it's cruel in that they are keeping the animals' fundamental nature, as wild animals, repressed. Our main concern is to ban these circus' and get these animals re-homed in sanctuaries.

"Locals who believe in proper animal welfare really have to start standing up to the circus."

Stardust Circus ringleader Adam St James said he had been made aware of the planned protest days earlier.

"These people are entitled to their opinion. Unfortunately the thing is, they're misinformed. All I can say is don't believe everything you hear. We're on display 24 hours a day and we are inviting anyone with concerns to come see the animals and ask any questions they may have," he said.

"Australia is one of the strictest countries in the world when it comes to keeping circus animals. We're policed by the RSPCA and if anyone makes complaints they come to inspect the animals. The RSPCA field officers so far have said the animals are in beautiful condition.

"We give the animals the very best of life. They're not wild, they have been born and bred in the circus for over 20 generations. They have been bottle fed and cared for since they were babies."

Lion trainer Matt Ezekial with the pride of the Stardust Circus.
Lion trainer Matt Ezekial with the pride of the Stardust Circus. Trevor Veale

TUESDAY 6PM: IT'S a controversial topic that has seen soaring ticket sales despite heavy public criticism.

The Stardust Circus has arrived in town this week, bringing its talented troupe of animal performers along for a week-long stint.

Meanwhile, animal rights activists are getting their placards prepared for a protest tomorrow afternoon ahead of the opening night.

Despite the circus attracting controversy from groups such as PETA, which follow it from one city to the next, it's clear the Stardust crew is unashamed and has nothing to hide.

Lion trainer Matt Ezekial allows anyone with concerns to visit the circus for a tour.

Mr Ezekial's prized lions, which he raised from cubs, can be seen lazing around on the grass in their enclosure at Coffs Showgrounds - a stark difference to the aggressive stereotype one would expect.

"It's a completely different era. There's no whips or chains, all training is reward-based. But now people are saying they're on drugs. You can't win," he said.

The cubs are trained by what Mr Ezekial describes as a 'game' and are rewarded with chicken.

"It's all a bit of a game at the start, we get a ball or rope and try to get them to jump over a pedestal.

"Each lion has it's own personality and strengths. Nairobi is good at standing on her back legs so we try to work with that. This fella over here is pretty lazy so we just do joke sorts of acts.

"They work for about 10 minutes a day. The rest of the day they're out here relaxing."

But protesters aren't concerned about any abuse or mistreatment. Rather, they are against the use of exotic animals in shows, repressing what they describe as their "innate wildness".

Animal rights advocate Judy Coward and members of the Coffs Harbour Environs for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Group have organised a protest called Coffs Speak Out to take place outside of the showgrounds on the opening day of the circus tomorrow.

Ms Coward says the aim of the peaceful protest is to get the exotic animals, which include lions and monkeys, re-homed in sanctuaries.

"Coffs needs to speak up about animals used for entertainment," she said.

"Exotic animals do not lose their innate wildness, no matter how many generations are born in captivity. They have the need to roam and form their own social groups rather than having artificial ones.

"They are not adapted to being carted from pillar to post all around the country."

Mr Ezekial refuted this, claiming the lions are domesticated.

"They've been born in captivity for 23 generations, they're not wild anymore. They're domesticated just as much as dogs or cats," he said.

"Even dogs bite."

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