The USDA Is Still On The Fence When It Comes To Bullhooks And Elephant Cruelty

Despite the best intentions of the Animal Welfare Act or the Endangered Species Act, zoos and circuses today continue to use inhumane techniques to train their elephants. The methods often involve the use of a bullhook to poke and punish the animals. The bullhook is made of metal and is highly painful to the elephant. The trainer uses the tool to exert pressure on the elephant’s sensitive areas and ultimately coax it into performing.

As the Humane Society of the United States reports in “Protect Wild Animals in Traveling Shows: A Guide to Ending the Use of Wild Animal Acts in your Community,” evidence of the damage bullhooks cause was found during an undercover investigation of Carson & Barnes Circus. The footage shows Tim Frisco, the animal care director, describing how to use the bullhook by instructing trainers to “Sink that hook and give it everything you got.” He goes on to say “hurt ‘em” and “make ‘em scream,” emphasizing that “when you hear that screaming then you know you got their attention.”

Frisco swings the bullhook like a baseball bat in one profanity-laden rant, “When he starts squirming too f***ing much, both f***ing hands—BOOM—right under that chin.”

Bullhooks are used to poke and prod elephants, and can cause serious injury.
Bullhooks are used to poke and prod elephants, and can cause serious injury.

Frisco is shown hooking elephants that cry out in pain. The so-called care director later admitted to shocking elephants with electric prods, keeping in mind that the beatings must be concealed from public view, . Given the terrifying abuse elephants endure from bullhooks used in hidden training sessions, it’s no wonder that the mere presence of a bullhook serves as a constant reminder to elephants that failure to obey commands will result in a sharp metal hook slicing through their sensitive flesh.

Bullhooks inflict serious injuries ranging from lacerations to abscesses to wounds, the Animal Legal Defense Fund reports. In 2019, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) voted to prohibit the use of bullhooks in elephant care and training by 2021 — a significant step forward for an organization that previously defended their use.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 2019 voted to prohibit the use of bullhooks in elephant care and training.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 2019 voted to prohibit the use of bullhooks in elephant care and training.

The board hopes to abolish the tool entirely by 2023, and signed a statement of intent to extend the prohibition to “emergencies and non-routine medical care” by 2023,  AZA spokesman Rob Vernon told CNN.

The use of bullhooks and other training methods that utilize pain or force are inhumane and simply should not be permitted for use anywhere. Though captive, these elephants still have the right to live healthy and comfortable lives without humans torturing them.

A number of countries have outlawed bullhooks, but the US has not.
A number of countries have outlawed bullhooks in elephant training, but the US has not.

Virtually all circuses that use elephants use bullhooks to control them, the ALDF reports, so banning bullhooks could essentially amount to a ban on elephants in circuses.

Multiple countries and major international cities have already made the humane decision to prohibit the use of wild animals in circuses and traveling shows including England, Greece, Italy, Madrid, and Paris. In the United States, however, the path toward a national ban on bullhooks has not been so clear.

“At the federal level, advocates cannot consistently rely on either the Animal Welfare Act or the Endangered Species Act, due to these statutes’ narrow provisions, standing limitations, and inconsistent enforcement,” the ALDF reports. “State animal-protection laws are equally deficient, as only two states have defined suffering and abuse clearly enough in their statutes to enable effective prosecution of elephant mistreatment, and plaintiffs in even these states frequently fail for lack of standing.”

Help us demand a ban on bullhooks at the federal level.
Help us demand a ban on bullhooks at the federal level.

This cruelty will not cease until the US Department of Agriculture takes an official stand against bullhooks. Help us send a message to the Secretary of the USDA and demand action now. Click below to make a difference.

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