Coincidence or not, a discussion about the use of bullhooks with elephants at Los Angeles City Hall is happening just a few weeks before Ringling Bros. Circus is set to arrive in town.

A Ringling Bros. show | Photo: Joms/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Los Angeles’ Board of Animal Services Commissioners recently voted to recommend the city adopt an ordinance that would prohibit the use of bullhooks and other tools used in elephant training.

While a decision hasn’t been reached and the topic is still up for debate — a city panel is set to discuss it at a June 5 meeting — critics say the bullhook, which resembles a fireplace poker, is an outdated method of training animals.

“All elephants used by circuses are subjected to abuse,” said Carney Chester, an attorney with the PETA Foundation. “There is no excuse for these endangered animals to be subjected to this treatment for a few fleeting moments of entertainment.”

Chester argues that training elephants with bullhooks not only puts animals at risk, but trainers have a substantial likelihood of death. “It’s more dangerous than coal mining,” she said. “Elephants trained with bullhooks, subjected to constant threat of bullhooks [are] prone to very erratic, unpredictable, violent behavior.”

Banning bullhook use on elephants is not without precedent. Fulton County, Georgia was the first locality to prohibit their use. The ban, however, was challenged when Ringling Bros. came to Atlanta and secured a temporary restraining order.

Zoos across the country were criticized for decades over what some activists called inhumane treatment of elephants. However, many centers, including the Los Angeles Zoo, have adopted policies that only allow “protected contact” between elephants and zookeepers, which places a barrier between the animal and keeper.

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