Oakland Steps Up for Circus Elephants With Proposed Bullhook Ban

In good news for circus elephants, lawmakers in Oakland, Calif., are preparing to consider an ordinance that will ban the controversial use of bullhooks in the city.

For decades bullhooks, which feature a sharp hook on the end, have been considered a standard tool for circuses and many zoos, which use them to “train” and control elephants through violence and intimidation.

This week, in an effort to protect elephants from this form of cruelty, the Public Safety Committee voted to move forward with the potential ban, which will now go up for a vote by the full Oakland City Council.

The ordinance, which was co-sponsored by council members Noel Gallo and Dan Kalb will “make the use of a bullhook, ankus, baseball bat, axe handle, pitchfork, or other implement or tool designed to inflict pain and/or fear, for the purpose of training and controlling the behavior of elephants in the city of Oakland illegal, punishable as a misdemeanor.”

The ordinance is based on a similar one that was passed in Los Angeles last year and has gotten support from animal advocates and organizations including PAWS, the Oakland SPCA and the Oakland Zoo.

The Oakland Zoo used bullhooks until 1991 when a trainer was killed by an elephant, at which point the zoo switched to using protected contact, which benefits both elephants and their caretakers. By using protected contact, keepers and elephants can still have physical contact and interact, but they have a barrier between them. This method also uses a reward-based system and offers elephants the opportunity to walk away if they don’t feel like doing anything as opposed to being controlled through pain and fear inflicted on them.

Representatives from Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey’s circus, still claim using bullhooks is humane and that they’re simply used to guide elephants, but experts and elephant advocates disagree with many speaking out against their abusive use at the last meeting.

“When we abandoned the use of the bullhook, one of our most dangerous elephants [at the zoo], became the sweetest of our elephants when she realized she would no longer be disciplined with a bullhook,” said Dr. Joel Parrot, the executive director of the Oakland Zoo. “If the circus comes to Oakland, they need to leave the bulhook at the gate. This bullhook is not Oakland. It is not who we are. It is not us.”

Feld Entertainment has predictably threatened to boycott Oakland if the ban passes, which has raised some concerns about a loss to the economy, but the circuses’ absence will just make it a double win for elephants with one less city in the U.S. exploiting them for fleeting entertainment.

As Gallo puts it, “If you are beating an animal to make money, create jobs and entertain people then that’s the wrong thing to do.”

Now the ban’s supporters are calling on animal advocates in the area to speak up for circus elephants by contacting their council members and attending the next City Council meeting, which will be held on December 9 at City Hall.

We can also help elephants and other wild animals used in entertainment by supporting the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act, will help end their suffering by banning the use of traveling animals in circuses throughout the U.S. for good.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Magdalena J.
Past Member 2 years ago

Thank you!

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

Elizabeth Z.
Elizabeth Z3 years ago

Ban any circus that uses animals.

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H3 years ago

Good start, Oakland. Now we need to ban the entire circus.

sandra vito
Sandra V3 years ago

prohibicion de animales en el circo

Georgina Elizab McAlliste
.3 years ago

Not enough...let us Ban Circuses once and for all

Ana MESNER3 years ago

Thank you.

Ruhee B.
Ruhee B3 years ago

Agree with Susie R that this doesn't go far enough. If I ruled the world there would be no animal prisons (zoos, circuses, seaworld etc) only sanctuaries for rescued animals that need them. Hope that people in the area will turn up tomorrow and speak up for these ellies - please get the ban in place!

feather w.
Feather W3 years ago

let´s ban animals in circuses...it is illegal in europe..

Lisa Zarafonetis
Lisa Z3 years ago

So glad this is being done!!!
Shared on my FB wall.