Ban the Bullhook

The California Senate has sent the Assembly an important elephant protection measure that would prohibit the menacing weapon called the bullhook that is used in circuses and other entertainment to control captive elephants through fear and pain. Senate Bill 716 comes at a time of unprecedented change in the way we view the use and treatment of captive elephants. We are proud that our cities, Los Angeles and Oakland, have prohibited this archaic device and played a key role in the powerful public shift away from the inhumane treatment of elephants. Now it's time for the state to join us in rejecting the bullhook.

The bullhook, also euphemistically called a "guide," resembles a fireplace poker, with a sharp hook and spiked tip at the end. It is used to prod, jab and strike elephants on sensitive parts of their bodies to ensure the animals do what the trainer wants. Elephants must learn at an early age to fear the bullhook and the pain it delivers. In Oakland and Los Angeles, we prohibited even the brandishing of bullhooks because the mere sight of one is powerful enough to intimidate a four-ton elephant into submission.

Make no mistake. The bullhook is not like using a leash on a dog or a rein on a horse. If someone were to use a bullhook or similar device to control and train a dog or a horse, it would be considered cruelty to animals.

Today, progressive zoos and accredited sanctuaries manage elephants with a method that relies on positive reinforcement, food treats and praise, instead of brute force. Keepers are able to more safely provide the high quality husbandry and veterinary care that elephants require. In fact, no Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited zoo in California uses the bullhook to manage elephants. However, two elephant exhibitors based in California continue to use bullhooks, as do circuses and other traveling shows that visit the state.

Fortunately for elephants, the times are changing. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will no longer feature elephant acts as of 2018. And nearly 50 local jurisdictions in the United States have restricted the use of elephants and/or the use of bullhooks on elephants. San Francisco recently banned the use of all wild animals in entertainment. Hollywood filmmakers are increasingly replacing wild animals with computer-generated images, as seen in blockbuster films like "Noah" and "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

At the same time, elephants continue to be mistreated in our state, despite a greater understanding of their keen intelligence, intricate social interactions, and deeply empathetic natures. Senate Bill 716, authored by Los Angeles Sen. Ricardo Lara and Oakland Assemblyman Rob Bonta, would remedy that. The bill would amend current law that protects elephants from being deprived of food, water, or rest and being subjected to certain abuses, and expand those protections to include a prohibition on the use of the bullhook and other painful devices.

In our cities, we believed it was our responsibility to prevent the abusive treatment of elephants and send a message that the inhumane handling of these majestic animals is never acceptable under any circumstances. At a time when elephants face so many threats in the wild and are in need of our respect and protection, it is incomprehensible that we would allow this iconic animal to be treated cruelly for the sake of entertainment and personal profit.

The time has come for the state of California to ensure the humane treatment of elephants. SB 716 is a commonsense and humane measure that should be enacted.