By Matthew Chebatoris
On Wednesday, October 23, 2013, the Los Angeles City Council voted to ban the use of bullhooks on circus elephants. Resembling a fireplace poker, bullhooks are used by trainers to touch sensitive pressure points on an elephant’s legs prompting the elephants to be submissive to a trainer’s commands. With the vote, Los Angeles will become the first major city in the U.S. to prohibit the use of bullhooks. The ban directly affects the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus which regularly performs at popular regional venues. Considering LA’s position as a leader in the entertainment industry, the ban has the potential to influence standards on animal husbandry far beyond the Southland.
The Los Angeles ban is one piece in a broader international effort to do more to protect wildlife, both in captivity and in the wild. Across the Atlantic, a draft bill proposing a ban on using wild animals in circuses in England was introduced in the British Parliament in April 2013. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are considering adopting a similar ban. The bill’s backers aspire for an agreed upon standard to be adopted for all of Great Britain.
Coinciding with the timing of the Los Angeles City Council’s vote, rangers in Zimbabwe shot and killed an elephant poacher in the Matusadonha National Park. Located along the shore of Lake Kariba in northwest Zimbabwe, the incident reportedly occurred during a shootout between park rangers and four unidentified poachers. Earlier this year, Zimbabwe experienced a mass poisoning of elephants. Estimates on the number of elephants killed vary from 100-325 due to differing accounts from government and independent wildlife officials. What is agreed upon is that the elephants died after ingesting cyanide.
Reputable international organizations involved in the protection of elephants and other species include the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), among others. Additional information on their global conservation efforts and opportunities to support their activities can be found on each organization’s website.