Protesters criticize Iowa mall and Joe exotic animal show
Fifteen protesters criticized a magic and animal show as well as Sycamore Mall for hosting the event Wednesday night, adding that they will continue to come and voice their concerns at each show this week.
The show, “Mystical Magic of the Endangered” by Joe Schreibvogel, known as “Joe Exotic,” is meant to teach its viewers about animal endangerment as well as the dangers of drugs, alcohol and drunk driving.
The show is based out of the G.W. Exotic Animal Memorial Park in Wynnewood, Okla., a rescued animals’ park that Schreibvogel started after his brother, G.W. Schreibvogel, died in an accident caused by a drunk driver.
Protesters said they were concerned about the animals in the show and the people who came to watch and interact with the animals.
“The group has been cited for violating the Animal Welfare Act,” said protester Nyssa Koons, 20, of Iowa City. “There’s just a lot of controversy surrounding the group.”
Kevin Digmann, Sycamore Mall’s general manager, has said his investigation into the show, which has performed at other malls across the country, found no abuses.
On Tuesday, members of the protesting group presented Sycamore Mall with a 20-page petition with 500 signatures, she said. The petition stated that the people who signed would not shop at Sycamore Mall if the show went on as planned.
“We’re here to do a positive show,” Sycamore Mall assistant manager Jennifer Ross said. “We’re not here to debate anybody.”
Ross said the group had a permit to protest outside but not inside private mall property.
“We’re just here to let kids have a good time,” Ross said. “Everybody’s entitled to their opinion.”
Twelve of the protesters entered the mall before the show started, holding hands and walking in a single file line with their mouths covered in duct tape. They sat in a line with their backs facing the audience waiting for the show to start.
Schreibvogel said he has been doing the show for 11 years but that this was the first time something like this happened. He said he is helping animals with his memorial park and show, providing shelter for 167 of the 60,000 unwanted tigers in the United States.
Federal law prevents sending these tigers back into the wild, he said.
Doing the show — which costs 1 cent for viewers, but raises additional money through donations — helps pay the bills to take care of the animals at the memorial park, he said.
Some of the local residents who came to see the show said they were a little uncomfortable by seeing protesters before the show.
Mi Kyeong Murra, who came to the show with her husband, Curt, and their two children, said it made her wonder about the show and its message.
“We came here for the enjoyment,” she said.
“Mystical Magic of the Endangered” will have four more shows at Sycamore Mall, 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 4 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Protester Ali Sadowski, 22, of Iowa City, said the group plans to have a crew of people go into the show each day. Those who were warned Wednesday not to enter the mall until after the show leaves on Sunday will not, she said.
“You can’t blame people for wanting to see tigers,” Sadowski said. “It’s just upsetting that Sycamore Mall is unconcerned about public safety and the health of the animals.”
By Rachel Gallegos
Iowa City Press-Citizen