(CIRCUSES/ELEPHANTS) Since Ringing Bros. Circus announced their plan to phase out all performing elephants by 2018, a chain reaction of humane decisions for circus elephants has gone into effect.

Most recently, California state Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) has introduced SB 716, a new bill that would prohibit the use of bullhooks on elephants in the state of California.

Los Angeles and Oakland have already passed such bans months ago, and according to a press statement on March 5, Ringling Bros. decision was largely driven by these legislative actions.

Los Angeles City Council banned the use of bullhooks in circuses on Wednesday.
Bullhooks are often used as weapons to tear the skin of elephants, and beat them bloody. Photo Credit: PETA

Now, state lawmakers alongside Governor Jerry Brown have the chance to end the use of bullhooks throughout the state, which may put California ahead of many other states in the Humane Society’s annual ranking of animal welfare policies.

Bullhooks are used to dominate elephants, which includes poking, prodding, and hitting the elephants’ sensitive skin. The weapon is a blend of a bat and a fireplace poker–both ends of the device are used interchangeably to inflict harm on the animal. The part of the device containing the hook is used to create puncture wounds and lacerations, and when the hook end of the device is clasped, the handle can also be used as a club.

This abuse forces the animal to submit to the ringleader–so much so that simply displaying the bullhook to an elephant is an instant indicator of the pain that can be inflicted if they do not submit to their handler’s demands.

A more humane way of training animals came about 20 years ago. This protected contact training–typically implemented by sanctuaries and most zoos that house elephants–utilizes a hands-off approach that correlates with positive reinforcement like treats and praise.

A bullhook is used on a baby elephant at Barnum & Bailey's Circus.
A bullhook is used on a baby elephant at Barnum & Bailey’s Circus.

In 2014, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) adopted new policies for elephant care that encourage and endorse protected contact with elephants. No California zoos accredited by the AZA use bullhooks on elephants.

The Oakland Zoo and the Performing Animal Welfare Society are strong advocates for SB 716, and partnered up in a growing campaign to stop the mistreatment of all entertainment animals.

Thanks to increasing political concern and the strong influence of committed non-profit entities, many states are disputing the use of bullhooks in traveling circuses all across the country. Currently, there are pending bills in Massachusetts and New York, as well as in major cities such as San Francisco, Austin, and Richmond.

Ringling’s announcement to phase out their elephants was a huge step in the right direction and may lead many other circuses to follow suit, but most circus companies will not relent to these changes if people are still contributing to their yearly profits.

It’s time to take a stand against other two-bit circuses that abuse their elephants in unspeakable ways–shipping them back and forth with chains around their feet, as they wait for their next performance.

TAKE ACTION: Let’s rid the country of this cruel and senseless tool that causes an 8-ton animal to quiver in fear. If you live in California, please contact your senator and urge them to support SB 716.

— Sabrina Clinkenbeard, exclusive to Global Animal