Ban on Use of Cruel Bullhooks on L.A. Zoo Elephants Overturned

When the Los Angeles Zoo was planning to expand its elephant exhibit a decade ago, a lawsuit was filed calling for the exhibit to be shut down entirely. According to the lawsuit, the elephants weren’t provided with adequate medical care, were confined to too small an area, and were controlled using cruel bullhooks and electric prods.

This disturbing video filmed in 1989 shows an L.A. Zoo employee tapping an elephant named Billy who, sadly, still lives at the zoo with a bullhook, a long stick with a sharp hook on one end.

The new 6.56-acre elephant enclosure was built as planned before the lawsuit finally made it to trial in 2012.

“All is not well at the Elephants of Asia exhibit,” wrote Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge John L. Segal in his decision at the end of the six-day trial. “Contrary to what the zoo’s representatives may have told the Los Angeles City Council in order to get construction of the $42 million exhibit approved and funded, the elephants are not healthy, happy and thriving.”

Segal ordered the zoo to exercise the elephants for two hours every day, rototill the soil on a regular basis to prevent foot health issues, and to stop using bullhooks and prods.

Five years later, that court order has been unanimously overturned by the California Supreme Court. It’s not because they support the mistreatment of elephants, but due to a technicality: taxpayers who had obtained the injunction against the zoo used wrong legal actions by making arguments in civil court instead of criminal court.

According to what the Los Angeles Times referred to as a “highly technical” ruling, a taxpayer lawsuit relies on civil law rules and can’t be used to stop criminal conduct — and the 2007 lawsuit accused the zoo of violating a criminal animal cruelty law. Actor Robert Culp (who died in 2010) and real estate agent Aaron Leider had filed the taxpayer lawsuit because they believed the zoo’s criminal mistreatment of elephants amounted to an illegal and wasteful expenditure of public funds.

“This is heartbreaking,” David B. Casselman, a lawyer who worked for years on the case free of charge, told the L.A. Times. “I thought we had done something here to move the ball forward and instead the Supreme Court has allowed the zoo to take a step into the dark ages.”

Casselman plans to return to trial court and try to get another injunction or to ask the state legislature to overturn the state Supreme Court’s ruling.

In the meantime, John Lewis, the director of the Los Angeles Zoo, is promising that despite the court order being overturned, bullhooks will not be used and the elephants will get regular exercise. He said bullhooks were not used before the 2007 lawsuit, although the 1989 video shows otherwise.

“We will continue to exercise them and provide the best care for our elephants,” Lewis told the Los Angeles Times.

What’s very fortunate is that, inspired in part by the 2012 court order, last year California banned the use of bullhooks on captive elephants. The ban, which goes into effect in January 2018, prohibits the use of 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.” Anyone caught breaking the law, and that includes the L.A. Zoo, will be subject to a fine and the possible loss of their permit to keep elephants.

But even without the threat of bullhooks and with the promise of regular exercise, the Los Angeles Zoo, as Judge Segal wrote in 2012, “is not a happy place for elephants.”

For years, animal welfare advocates have been urging the zoo to send Billy, an elephant often seen bobbing his head due to stress, to a sanctuary. If Lewis is sincere about wanting to provide the best care for the zoo’s elephants, he should listen to these advocates. Please join more than 200,000 Care2 members by signing and sharing this petition urging the zoo to send Billy to a sanctuary.

Photo credit: YouTube


Marie W
Marie Wabout a year ago

thanks for sharing

Melania P
Melania Padillaabout a year ago

No animal deserves this :(
Activism and social media are playing a great role I feel; I feel positive that we will see the end to this in our life time.

Jennifer H
Jennifer Habout a year ago

Disgusting, LA. More and more disappointments coming from So Cal. Maybe they fear it would interfere with the movie industry....

Sonia Minwer Barakat Requ

Petition signed thanks for sharing

foteini HORBOU1 years ago

oh my God! :(

Carl R
Carl R1 years ago


Jane Howard
Jane Howard1 years ago

Signed back in July 2016

Nicole Heindryckx

@ Beth D : you are 100 % right : they are gentle giants. This can f.i. be seen when a mother looses her calf. While the herd waits for some time, and then continues their route, she stays with her dead calf for several days. In the beginning, she even tries to revive it, by gently kicking it with her feet, to turn it around , to try to lift it up, etc... A similar attitude is visible when they find the bones of a dead relative, who may be never belonged to their herd. They all stop, and with their trunk they examine and kind of caress the remaining, bleached bones for a long time, before finally continuing their route. And when a little baby calf is in need, for example when it has lots of difficulties for climbing the steep slope of a drinking place, it is the whole family who is trying to save him and lift him up or push him up from the muddy ground. When I see such scenes in a documentary, I always think : people should be more like elephants. The world would be a better place to live in.

Since many many years, corporal punishments are no longer allowed / applicable in the Western World. When seeing what we do to animals, pets as well as wildlife, one should consider re-introducing corporal punishments again for those "human" beings who apparently love to harm animals in all kinds of cruel ways, just because we THINK we are higher ranked than them. We are so damned stupid !!

Nicole H

Most of us know that one can far better and easier train an animal by giving it treats or just petting it, than by beating him, or by using painful sticks. The pain caused by the owner, will only make the animal more stubborn, and will try to refuse to obey orders, until he understands that this leads to more and more pain, and he finally will give in. But then, you have an animal with a heart full of hatred and on the first occasion, he will try to attack you. And nobody can blame this animal. When only being beaten or picked in a painful way, the animal will become very hateful towards you. Apparently zoo keepers have not yet understood this. Although this footage dates from 1989, I do not think that they have changed a lot in training their animals. For this and for so many other reasons, I again ask / plead / beg : CLOSE ALL ZOOS and CIRCUSES... And as far as Billy is concerned, he was a small elephant in 1989, but this is nearly 30 years ago !! 28 years of suffering, that is way too much. RELEASE BILLY and bring him to a good and safe sanctuary. An elephant is not an animal to live on its own. They live in family groups.... except for the males, who only visit the group from time to time, especially when they want to mate.

Magdalen B
Magdalen B1 years ago

Listen, Lewis!