Lara Announces Elephant Protection Legislation Banning use of Bullhooks

April 08, 2015

SACRAMENTO, CA —Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) today announced legislation to update California’s existing criminal laws protecting elephants from abuse by prohibiting the use of a bullhook or similar devices. Senate Bill 716 follows on the heels of similar prohibitions enacted in the cities of Los Angeles and Oakland and Feld Entertainment’s recent announcement of an end to traveling elephants in the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey circuses by 2018.

SB 716 proposes to amend California Penal Code Sec 596.5, which already protects elephants from being deprived of food, water, or rest and being subjected to physical punishment, among other abuses. SB 718 would add an explicit prohibition on the use of “bullhook, ankus, guide or pitchfork, including the use of those devices without making contact.” This provision would become effective on January 1, 2018. 

“There is no place in California for mistreating elephants for any reason,” said Senator Lara. “These gentle and intelligent creatures, whose species survival is being threatened by poaching from the pernicious ivory trade, deserve our care and respect. California’s accredited zoos have moved away from use of bullhooks and similar devices and it’s time to take them off the table.”
Senator Lara is also the principal co-author of Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), Assembly Bill 96, aimed at closing a decades-old loophole in California’s ban on the sale of ivory which has impeded enforcement and allowed the illegal trade to flourish.
Six California zoos accredited by the American Zoological Association have elephants, but no longer use bullhooks, including the Oakland Zoo, whose lead elephant keeper Gina Kinzley said, “Through our progressive program, Oakland Zoo cares for our four African Elephants with positive reinforcement through operant conditioning, paired with food and praise as reward. The bullhook, or ankus, is an outdated tool and barbaric tactic used to punish and abuse elephants.”

“Captive elephants have suffered long enough as a consequence of unceasing travel and frequent striking by handlers wielding the sharp end of a bullhook like a weapon. Bullhooks, by causing pain and suffering, have no place in modern-day handling of captive elephants,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “Los Angeles and Oakland did the right thing on this issue, and the entire state should follow suit. We thank Senator Lara for taking this proactive approach.”

One of the six non-zoo entities licensed by California Department of Fish and Wildlife to possess elephants in California, the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) cares for nine Asian and African elephants at its San Andreas sanctuary. PAWS president Ed Stewart said, “The inhumane treatment of elephants with bullhooks is unacceptable, whether it's in circuses, fairs, or for any type of entertainment. PAWS has trained and managed elephants for more than 30 years without using a bullhook, and we are proud that California is taking the lead to end the abuse of elephants with this archaic and cruel weapon."

SB 716 is in print and will likely be referred to the Senate Public Safety committee.