Circus struggles with tragedy
By PETER ELLEM
THE close-knit Stardust Circus community is in mourning after one of its two 'star' performing elephants crushed a handler to death at Yamba late yesterday.
A police spokesman last night confirmed that the unidentified man, aged in his sixties, was found by a fellow male handler lying facedown with a serious back injury in an elephant exercise enclosure about 5.15pm.
While WorkCover has been called in to investigate the fatality, police who attended the scene are still unsure whether the victim had a heart attack before or after he was stomped by the elephant.
A post mortem examination will be held to determine the exact cause of death.
Police said the elephants, Arna and Gigi, were being unloaded from trucks for exercise at the time of the incident.
A caravan of circus workers and their families had arrived in town throughout yesterday to help set up Stardust's Big Top at Angourie Road Sports Reserve.
The circus is due to start a season of shows from 7pm tonight until Saturday, January 6.
It has been on a Christmas break after touring Coffs Harbour in November and Lismore less than a fortnight ago.
Its next stop after Yamba is supposed to be Ballina, before moving up to south-east Queensland.
Police from the Coffs-Clarence Command, including an inspector, yesterday cordoned off the leased site, keeping a small media contingent at bay.
Stardust Circus employees closed ranks in grief, some comforting each other, others returning to normal work duties before nightfall.
Stardust is billed as Australia's largest traditional travelling animal circus, featuring the elephants, five lions, monkeys, ponies and other attractions.
However, its owners, Janice and Lindsay Lennon, and the West family, have been in Animal Liberation NSW's sights for several years now.
Animal Liberation in 2004 went to the NSW Supreme Court to have Arna, in her mid-40s and without company since her former partner Bambi died in 1996, paired with Gigi, a retired elephant from Ashtons Circus.
Lismore mayor Cr Merv King this month used his casting vote to defeat a motion from former mayor Cr Ros Irwin that circuses using wild animals be banned from performing In the Lismore local government area.
Stardust management, which consistently has maintained the elephants are well treated and happy, last night could not be contacted for comment on yesterday's tragedy.