It's undeniable; elephants are majestic, captivating, inspiring, and magnificent. People across the globe pay attention to their well-being and their plight.
They amaze us as they traverse the African savannah or navigate the Asian tropical forests in matriarchal herds: grandmothers, mothers, daughters, granddaughters, aunts, nieces, and cousins, all living together in strong family systems. They disperse vital seeds, ensuring an enhanced and viable ecosystem. They mourn the dead in poignant burial rituals.
Yet, despite our profound love for elephants and amazement at their very existence, humans have a unique, inexplicable capacity to bring pain and suffering to individual elephants as we simultaneously engage in behaviors that hasten their demise in the wild.
Captive elephants suffer inexplicable indignity. They are forced to "live" in small enclosures that prevent their naturally gregarious and inquisitive behaviors. They languish with comparable immobility, never able to walk the long distances that their wild cousins do. They are forced to perform insane tricks for gawking onlookers that include balancing on a ball, walking on their back legs, perching their front legs on the elephant before them, and carrying thoughtless humans around a ring.
They don't do this willingly. They are "trained." This training is often accomplished with the use of the barbaric bullhook: a stick with a metal spike at the tip that is plunged behind the elephant's ear or into her leg. It's used to induce action; the right action; the action that the cruel trainer is seeking.
In California, no more.
This week, California governor Jerry Brown signed into law legislation introduced by state senator Ricardo Lara from Bell Gardens that prohibits keeping elephants anywhere that uses a "bullhook, ankus, baseball bat, axe handle, pitchfork, or other device designed to inflict pain for the purpose of training or controlling the behavior of an elephant."
Absolutely amazing! I extend my thanks and congratulations to The Humane Society of the United States, Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), and Oakland Zoo for sponsoring this important bill.
It's quite simple, isn't it? In 2016, there is no excuse for keeping elephants in captivity anywhere. They belong in the wild. But, in 2016, if an elephant is to be kept in captivity, there is no excuse for using a bullhook to control her. If you can't manage without a bullhook, get out of the elephant business.
California follows Rhode Island in making this compassionate legislative change. As far as I'm concerned, that's two states down--and 48 to go.
I certainly hope this puts more and more elephant attractions out of business. That said, there are still so many elephants sadly clinging to deprived lives in American zoos, bullhook or not. The San Antonio Zoo, for instance, has been expanding its captive elephant group by pulling elephants "on loan" from the Ringling Bros. circus elephant center in Florida. Imagine: an elephant is grotesquely forced to do stupid and demeaning tricks in a circus, shuttled around the country by rail. She's chained, year after year. When she's FINALLY "retired" to a comparatively peaceful new home in Florida, she's suddenly sent to a zoo in San Antonio. I think the phrase is something about adding insult to injury.
Again, an enlightened society should be moving elephants out of circuses and zoos, and into peaceful sanctuary life immediately and permanently. No excuses. They suffer in captivity, psychologically and physically. They die young in captivity.
Stop beating them with bullhooks. Stop incarcerating them in a living hell. Just stop.
Keep Wildlife in the Wild,