June 3rd, 2011 by Nicole Meyer
In a great win, the Fulton County Commission in Georgia voted 4-1 to ban the use of bullhooks on elephants. The ordinance covers unincorporated south Fulton, and it would apply primarily to smaller circuses that visit the area, effectively stopping them from using elephants in performances and rides. Unfortunately, it does not stop the use of bullhooks by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which performs in Atlanta.
Bullhooks are steel-tipped rods resembling fireplace pokers that are used to train and control elephants through physical punishment and intimidation (see accompanying photo). Handlers prod, hook and strike the elephants, often causing puncture wounds, lacerations and abscesses. There is abundant evidence showing that circuses routinely abuse elephants with bullhooks.
The perfect example of this training is seen in the footage recently released by Animal Defenders International, showing a typical training session for the elephants at Have Trunk Will Travel. The footage includes shots of Tai, the elephant featured in the movie Water for Elephants, being shocked with a hand-held electric device, and other elephants as they are hooked and viciously hit with the bullhook. (This company hires out elephants for rides, weddings, films, photo shoots, and parties, including some pretty seamy Hollywood soirees — just about anything that will make them money.) In one shot, the trainer tells the cameraperson not to show her hooking the elephants. That’s because this is the side of elephant training that’s never meant to be seen by the public, no matter if it’s a circus, a zoo, or an outfit like Have Trunk Will Travel.
What most people don’t know is that about half of zoos holding elephants use bullhooks, even though it’s inhumane for the elephants and extremely dangerous for keepers. Just this year, a young zookeeper was killed by an elephant at the Knoxville Zoo. And last year a seasoned keeper was nearly killed by a young male elephant. What makes these incidents even more tragic is that they were entirely preventable. Zoos can use a more progressive and humane training method that uses positive reinforcement and requires a barrier between elephant and keeper.
Please help IDA keep up the fight for elephants in captivity! You can start by taking part in our International Day of Action for Elephants in Zoos (IDAEZ) on June 11, a global event aimed at educating the world about the suffering of elephants in zoos. Click here for more information. If there isn’t an event planned for your zoo, it’s not to late to organize one! Contact IDAEZ@idausa.org to learn how. And stay tuned to this blog for a special announcement next week about action you can take for elephants.