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L.A. City Council votes to ban the use of bullhooks

Major impact for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus

City News Service | 10/23/2013, 1:22 p.m. | Updated on 10/23/2013, 1:54 p.m.
The Los Angeles City Council today voted unanimously to ban the use of bullhooks in wrangling elephants — a move ...
PETA organizers rallyed in Atlanta to protest the use of bullhooks on elephants. PETA

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — The Los Angeles City Council today voted unanimously to ban the use of bullhooks in wrangling elephants — a move that could prevent the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus from making a stop here.

Bullhooks are “cruel and inhumane, and I would love to see the ban go into effect tomorrow,” Councilman Mitch O’Farrell said.

The ban, supported by celebrities such as actress Kristen Bell, comedian Sarah Silverman and singer Ke$ha, will not take effect immediately. The 13-0 City Council vote today starts the process for attorneys to begin drafting an ordinance, which could include a process for phasing in a ban over a three-year period.

The ban would also bar the use of baseball bats, pitchforks, ax handles and other goads used in place of bullhooks.

City Councilman Paul Koretz, who proposed the ban, brought a bullhook to the council chamber. He said it was “considered a dangerous weapon” and showed his colleagues a video of how they are used on elephants.

Koretz 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.

Ringling Bros. said the City Council’s decision “effectively bans circuses from performing with elephants” in Los Angeles.

“The City Council has taken the extreme step of outlawing the use of guides, also referred to as ‘bullhooks,’ which is a critical tool that the circus needs to present elephants

“Today’s decision was unsupported by any evidence or proof of elephant abuse in Los Angeles, and more importantly, it did not implement any measures that would improve the welfare of animals. Instead, it will deprive families of the right to take their children to see live animals at the circus,” according to a Ringling Bros. spokesman.

Circuses must also adhere to strict laws against animal abuse and subject themselves to inspections by the state and the city, the statement said.

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

“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.