As of the writing of this article, two cities cities in California have taken steps to end the use of bullhooks, an inhumane tool used by animal trainers to scare working elephants into submission. In 2013 Los Angeles passed an ordinance that made it illegal for bullhooks to be used on elephants for any reason, and in 2014 Oakland followed in their footsteps.

For Senator Ricardo Lara that was not enough. In April 2015 he proposed a bill that would criminalize the use of bullhooks in California. However, after passing both the Senate and Assembly, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it, stating that making it a criminal offense was too harsh of a penalty.

Senator Lara re-wrote the bill making use of the bullhook on elephants a finable offense. A person who violates the provisions of this bill would be subject to civil penalties and possible revocation of his or her restricted species permit issued by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Senator Lara re-introduced a revised bullhook ban bill on February 16, 2016 as SB 1062.

Where does the public stand on SB 1062?

Various members of the community provided verbal comments during the public comment period of the hearing. According to Denise Peck and Dan Armstrong, attendees at the meeting and members of March for Elephants, there was both support and opposition for the bullhook ban.

The discussion focused on whether use of the bullhook was necessary or not. Referring to the bullhook as a ‘guide,’ the opponents stated that it was one of the tools necessary for proper control and care of elephants in captivity. They seemed to imply that the bullhook is a simple, benign tool rarely used because the elephants have already been trained. At the same time, however, they stated that the bullhook is an absolutely necessary tool, without which it would be extremely difficult to manage and care for the elephants day to day, including for the purpose of providing veterinary care.

Gina Kinzley, Lead Elephant Manager at the Oakland Zoo, countered by stating that the elephants at the zoo are trained to be managed and cared for using “Protected Contact” techniques exclusively. The Oakland Zoo has used Protected Contact techniques for 25 years and has successfully demonstrated its effectiveness.

Senator Andy Vidak, one of the two “no” votes on the bill, questioned the potential difficulty of retraining elephants to accept Protected Contact management techniques if they were originally trained with a bullhook. Gina Kinzley stated that all but one of the elephants at the Oakland Zoo had originally been trained with a bullhook and all have responded extremely well to Protected Contact techniques. She further stated that the elephants prefer these more humane techniques, such as giving food as a reward, and as a result they learn very quickly.

Opponents of SB 1062 also claimed that the bill does nothing to end the suffering some elephants endure such as being confined in extremely small living quarters. Although it may not end these issues directly, the bill would force performing animal groups to replace the bullhook with more humane methods of training their elephants. In addition to bullhooks, the bill would ban baseball bats, pitchforks, and similar devices for training purposes.

On the day of the hearing, the bill passed the committee by a vote of 7–2. On April 18, 2016 the California State Senate passed SB 1062 with 29-9 vote.

Current Status

On Tuesday, June 14 SB 1062 passed the Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife by a non-partisan vote of 12-2. Gina Kinzley and Ed Stewart, President and Co-Founder of the Performing Animal Welfare Society gave excellent testimonies! The bill will now be sent to the Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media. If it passes this committee, SB 1062 may be sent to the Appropriations Committee and then on to Governor Brown for his approval.

How You Can Help

Passage of SB 1062 is important because animal abuse for human entertainment is unacceptable. Think of it another way: would you use a bullhook or other painful device to train a dog or a horse? This would be considered cruelty to animals. Elephants are intelligent, sentient beings. Please let your assembly member know that you are in favor of SB 1062.

Here are two ways that you can help:

1. Please attend the committee hearing on Tuesday, June 21. We need to pack the room with elephant-friendly supporters. This is very important! Come to the Capitol and bring friends. Here are the details:
Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media
Tuesday, June 21, at 9am
Room 437
Capitol Building, Sacramento

2. Contact your Assembly Representative and ask for their support of SB 1062

Don’t know who your assembly representative is? Go to http://assembly.ca.gov/ and scroll to the very bottom and click on “Find Your Representative.” You can search either by your address or district. Help us take action to end the suffering of elephants in captivity by raising your voice in their defense.

Let’s make California the first state to pass a bullhook ban!