The Los Angeles City Council smartly — and unanimously — passed a ban Wednesday on the use of bullhooks to manage elephants in performances and exhibitions in the city. Not only does the ban prohibit the sharp-edged fire-poker-like device that trainers use as a tool of coercion to get the elephants to do what they want, it also bans any implement (baseball bats, ax handles, etc.) that would be similarly used to prod, poke or strike an elephant and inflict pain. The vote was 14 to 0. Councilman Jose Huizar was not present.
The measure was introduced by Councilman Paul Koretz, who has been a supporter of animal welfare legislation most of his political career. Koretz showed a six-minute video of elephants being trained with the bullhook, some of them sounding distressed as they were prodded. Council President Herb Wesson, pacing as he watched and seemingly distressed himself by what the video portrayed, cut it off shortly before the end. “Mr. Koretz, I believe we’ve seen more than enough,” he said. “I’m ready to vote.”
The only drawback was that the council decided at the last minute not to put the measure into effect for three years. As Councilman Mitch O’Farrell noted, this ban, ideally, should have gone into effect yesterday. The last-minute amendment was made by Councilman Gil Cedillo, who said it was an effort to save the jobs of workers who help staff circuses in town.
Labor leaders have used this argument before. I find it mystifying. Yes, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, has said that the bullhook ban would effectively kick Ringling out of L.A. But how does that mean lost jobs? Ringling comes to Staples Center for a mere week each year. Do we think AEG won’t book something else in that spot if the circus doesn’t come to town? As for Ringling, it travels with its own crew. If they don’t come here, they’ll go somewhere else. They tour the entire country, including other cities in Southern California.
This just means that Ringling can bring elephants and bullhooks into L.A. for three more years. And that’s unfortunate.
But bottom line, the council did the right thing by putting the ban into effect.
Koretz told me he has no problems with the three-year wait. “The hope is that it gives any circus that still uses elephants time to adjust and rethink it and, we hope, change their business model ... and go the way of Circus Vargas.” That circus stopped using animals years ago.
Personally, I think elephants should not be made to perform in circuses under any conditions. They shouldn’t be used for rides at county fairs either. These are majestic wild creatures that roam miles in Africa and Asia. They are not like overgrown horses and dogs. Elephant experts, animal welfare advocates and former circus handlers all attest to elephants having to be trained and prodded with bullhooks to get them to do what people pay to see them do. Not to mention that they spend hours traveling in train cars.
By the way, this doesn’t mean that circus handlers don’t treat them well in other ways or care about elephants and the conservation of the species. I presume the animals’ food, veterinary care and supervision is topnotch. But I hope that Ringling does, indeed, spend the next three years figuring out not how to bring elephants to Los Angeles without bullhooks but how to bring the circus to L.A. without elephants.
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