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L.A. Bans Use of Bullhooks on Elephants

Councilman Mitch O'Farrell previously called the use of bullhooks "cruel and inhumane."

Patch file photo.
Patch file photo.

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to ban the use of "bullhooks" and other types of goads and prods employed in wrangling elephants in circuses and other shows.

Councilman Mitch O'Farrell previously called the use of bullhooks "cruel and inhumane." Celebrities such as actress Kristen Bell, comedian Sarah Silverman and singer Ke$ha were among those who supported the ban.

The ordinance, which was approved without discussion, will take effect in January 2017. It makes it illegal in the city to use bullhooks, baseball bats, ax handles, pitchforks and other similar tools to cause pain in elephants. The goads -- or instruments made to look like bullhooks -- also cannot be shown or brandished "for the purpose of training or controlling the behavior of the elephant."

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey spokesman Stephen Payne called the ban "completely unnecessary and unfair" and said animal-rights advocates have little understanding of how to handle "an 8,000 pound Asian elephant."

Circuses must also adhere to strict laws against animal abuse and subject themselves to inspections by the state and the city, according to a statement issued by Ringling Bros. in October, when the council voted to begin the process of banning the bullhooks.

When the ban goes into effect, it will "effectively prevent Ringling Bros. from bringing the circus to Staples Center," Payne said.

"Our elephants are the number-one reason people come to see the 'Greatest Show on Earth,"' he said. "We're not just going to drop them off when we play Los Angeles."

Payne said they would need to move their circus, which draws 100,000 attendees, to a venue outside the city limits, but hopes to come to a "mutually acceptable compromise" with the city.

Ringling Bros. is booked at Staples Center until 2016, according to circus representatives.

City Councilman Paul Koretz, who proposed the ban, said he investigated the issue with an "open mind," but based on "compelling evidence" from advocates of humane animal treatment, and after circus representatives failed to meet with him, he decided the hooks needed to be banned.

"This is not a vote against circuses," Koretz said. "The circus is welcome in Los Angeles, just without bullhooks."

Koretz said the sharp implements -- which resemble walking canes with a curved spike on one end -- can cause injuries and "is only effective because the elephant has been taught to associate it with pain and fear to repeated poking and prodding to sensitive parts of the body -- sometimes drawing blood."

"Times are changing," Koretz said. "We know so much more now about elephants and their intelligence, sensitivity and emotional natures. We know they suffer not only physically, but psychology."

That is why the Los Angeles Zoo, elephant sanctuaries and "progressive" zoos have stopped using the hooks, he said.

—City News Service

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