By Graham Moomaw
Three Richmond city councilmen have introduced legislation to ban the use of bullhooks in the training or control of elephants, a measure that could have repercussions for circus performances in Richmond.
An ordinance introduced Monday would amend the city's animal-cruelty statutes to make it illegal to use a "bullhook, ankus, baseball bat, axe, handle, pitchfork or similar instruments or a tool designed to inflict pain for the purpose of training or controlling the behavior of an elephant." Violations would be classified as a Class 2 misdemeanor, an offense that carries a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.
The first hearing on the proposed bullhook ban is scheduled for today at 5 p.m. during a meeting of the council's Education and Human Services Committee.
The ordinance is being patroned by Council President Charles R. Samuels, 2nd District, Councilman Chris A. Hilbert, 3rd District, and Councilman Parker C. Agelasto, 5th District.
The ban would not go into effect until January 2017.
A memo accompanying the ordinance describes a bullhook as "a rod, the tip of which is steel and resembles a fireplace poker" that is used to "prod, jab, hook and sometimes strike elephants to develop desired behavior."
"Currently, controversy exists regarding the training of elephants. Animal rights groups view use of the bullhook, and negative training methods generally, as cruel and unnecessary. These groups believe that elephants can be trained and controlled through positive reinforcement."
Los Angeles passed similar legislation in May in response to campaigns from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other animal rights groups, according to the Los Angeles Times. That ban was also delayed until 2017 in order to give circuses time to modify their methods or remove elephants from their shows.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which performs in Richmond, opposed the Los Angeles ban.
Stephen Payne, vice president of corporate communications for Feld Entertainment, the parent company of the Ringling Bros. circus, called the Richmond proposal "completely unnecessary."
"It would result in an effective prohibition of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey being able to perform in the city of Richmond," Payne said.
He said bullhooks are "long accepted and appropriate animal husbandry tools" approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Payne added that the notion that bullhooks are designed to inflict pain is "false on its face."
"I could inflict pain with a ballpoint pen," Payne said.
The council legislation follows a local push to ban elephant training tools in Richmond.
A Facebook group calling itself "Ban the Bullhook in RVA" recently published a celebratory post in response to the legislation being introduced.