Lions And Zoos

Australia’s last circus lion trainer Matthew Ezekial puts his six African lions into early retirement | Camden Haven Courier


It’s the end of an era for Australia’s last circus lion trainer Matthew Ezekial as he settles his pride of six African lions into early retirement.

It’s a heartbreaking final act for the 20-year-old clown and lion trainer of Stardust Circus, as the much-loved carnivores are permanently transferred to the Central Coast Zoo in Wyong Creek.

Mr. Ezekial originally grew up on a farm property near Kew before leaving the area at the age of 10. He joined the circus as a tent worker at age 17 and was later introduced to the lions by former trainer Glenn West.

The three male lions and the three female lions are the final pride of 25 generations born in Australia.

The tearful farewell was prompted by the circus shutting down for more than three months amid the spread of COVID-19 in New South Wales and the difficulty in obtaining insurance for exotic pets.

“It was quite difficult to make a decision, but they are now in a good position which makes it easier. It’s been 10 years with these lions and we haven’t even had the chance to do one last farewell show. with them, ”Ezekial said. noted.

“It’s heartbreaking to be the last lion trainer because I wanted my (four) children to do it and they won’t stand a chance now. It’s the end of an era and 100 years of tradition that is end forever.

“It all got stale eventually and we had already decided this would be our last batch of lions. It was just a lot sooner than we thought.

“I’m proud to have been a lion coach but I’m sad it didn’t last.”

Stardust Circus has traditionally traveled through New South Wales, stopping at Port Macquarie each year. He is expected to return to Sydney for shows in two weeks, but has no plans to visit Westport Park in Port Macquarie until next year.

The circus is operated by Janice and Lindsay Lennon, along with five siblings from the West Circus family. It features a range of acrobats, clowns, trapeze acts, springboard, acrobats, ponies, goats, dogs and pigs.

END OF AN ERA: Massai and Matthew ‘Huckleberry’ Ezekial share a moment before a show.

Traveling with animals: Matthew Ezekial before a show with African lions in 2019.

Traveling with animals: Matthew Ezekial before a show with African lions in 2019.

Over the next few months, Mr. Ezekial will be training a keeper at the Central Coast Zoo to replace his daily interactions with the animals.

“Having that bond with a lion is all about trusting, they trust you and you trust them. I have hundreds of memories with them and I miss them already,” he said.

“Working with them has been difficult at times, but they’re quite affectionate. They show you when they’re happy and when they’re not.

“It’s pretty special to be allowed to play with them because they could kill you in the blink of an eye if they wanted to.

“It’s an easy experience at the zoo for them because everything is new. I’m here to keep them occupied a bit and hopefully train someone else to do what I’m doing.”

END OF AN ERA: Massai and Matthew 'Huckleberry' Ezekial share a moment before a show.

END OF AN ERA: Massai and Matthew ‘Huckleberry’ Ezekial share a moment before a show.

Animal welfare groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the RSPCA, have previously campaigned directly against Stardust Circus and its use of acts involving animals.

An RSPCA statement called the lion’s relocation “a significant gain for animal welfare in Australia,” while a PETA statement called for an official ban on wild animals in traveling circuses.

Mr. Ezekial maintains that the animals are well cared for, loved and lack nothing.

“We get bad press but it’s not justified and these people never watched the show or saw me training with the lions. They just heard something bad or saw circus pictures at the show. ‘foreigner,’ he said.

“We have always done our best for our animals with better pens than necessary, food, water, air conditioning and heating. They would never need anything.”

CIRCUS LIFE: Children grow up with lions at Stardust Circus. Photo: Supplied / Matthew Ezekial.

CIRCUS LIFE: Children grow up with lions at Stardust Circus. Photo: Supplied / Matthew Ezekial.

“Lions sleep during the day as we travel and wake up to a new place of enrichment with new sights, sounds and smells,” he said.

“They would often run for half an hour and then go straight back to sleep. They always liked to put on the show because they were given treats like chicken, beef or horse.

“The lions sparked excitement in regional towns where people got to see them play and jump for the first time.”

Four rhesus macaque monkeys from the circus are also being placed in a private monkey retreat.

“We also have to bring back Millie, Chloe, Goldie and Buttons, they were my wife’s monkeys and she is also heartbroken,” Mr Ezekial said.

“It’s going to be tough, but we adapt and still put on a good show no matter what.”

REHOMING: Matthew Ezekial with wife Wonona West-Smith and the monkeys.  Photo: Supplied.

REHOMING: Matthew Ezekial with wife Wonona West-Smith and the monkeys. Photo: Supplied.


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