Press Release: 06/29/2015

Unprecedented Worldwide Support from Across the Zoological and Conservation Community for Ending Elephant Abuse

Erin Harrison, Senior Manager, Marketing & Communications
(510) 632-9525 ext. 135

Oakland, CA, June 29, 2015…More than four dozen elephant care professionals, scientists and veterinarians call on California to enact SB 716. On Tuesday, June 30, a bill that would prohibit the use of the bullhook will be heard in the Assembly Public Safety Committee at the State Capitol. Oakland Zoo, alongside Humane Society of the United States and Performing Animal Welfare Society are key sponsors on the bill, introduced by Senator Ricardo Lara, and co-authored by Assembly Member Rob Bonta.

Bullhooks are commonly used by elephant handlers to train, punish, and control elephants. A bullhook resembles a fireplace poker. It has a sharp metal hook and spiked tip, and the handle is typically plastic or wood. It is used to prod, hook, strike, and hit elephants on their sensitive areas of skin in order to inflict pain during training, performing, and handling.

Both ends of the bullhook are used to inflict damage. The hook is used to apply varying degrees of pressure to sensitive spots on an elephant’s body, causing the elephant to move away from the source of pain, often causing puncture wounds and lacerations. When the hooked end is held, the handle is used as a club, inflicting substantial pain when the elephant is struck in areas where little tissue separates skin and bone. Even when not in use, the bullhook is a constant reminder of the painful punishment that can be delivered at any time. Simply put, there is no way to humanely use a bullhook.

Circuses have misled the public with claims that a bullhook—euphemistically called a “guide”—is akin to using a leash on a dog or reins on a horse. If someone were to use a bullhook or similar device to control and train a dog or a horse, it would be considered cruelty to animals.

Protected Contact, a management style based on positive reinforcement training, which utilizes food treats and praise, was developed more than twenty-five years ago and is currently used by sanctuaries and most zoos that house elephants. This management system uses physical barriers such as a fence line or training wall to keep trainers safe, and also gives elephants choice in whether or not they want to participate. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) adopted a new policy in 2014 that prohibits keepers from sharing unrestricted space with elephants and avoids the need for implements like the bullhook. No AZA-accredited zoo in California uses bullhooks on elephants – and the California Association of Zoos & Aquariums supports SB 716. Oakland Zoo began practicing Protected Contact in 1991.

“The bullhook is an outdated tool, in a time of modern training techniques, which were pioneered over twenty years ago,” said Gina Kinzley, Co-Elephant Manager at Oakland Zoo. “Oakland Zoo has been working hard to ensure the passage of this bill and the protection of elephants in California. Along with HSUS and PAWS, we have sought worldwide support of over four dozen elephant professionals, scientists, and veterinarians, that hope to outlaw the use of this weapon for the welfare of our wildlife.”

Federal law regarding the care of elephants does not prohibit the use of bullhooks. Nearly fifty local jurisdictions in the United States have restricted the use of elephants and/or the use of bullhooks on elephants, including the cities of Los Angeles and Oakland. San Francisco recently banned all exotic animal performances.

In March 2015, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey announced it will phase out the use of elephants in their traveling shows by 2018, citing in part a changing attitude to the use and treatment of elephants in circuses as well as a growing number of cities and counties across the country that have prohibited the display of elephants or use of bullhooks to train elephants.

A state-wide ban of bullhooks in California will ensure the humane treatment of elephants. Please call upon California lawmakers to enact SB 716. Click here to see the signed statement of support for SB 716 by elephant caregiving professionals in the U.S. and around the world


The Bay Area's award-winning Oakland Zoo is home to more than 660 native and exotic animals. The Zoo offers many educational programs and kid's activities perfect for science field trips, family day trips and exciting birthday parties. Oakland Zoo is dedicated to wildlife conservation onsite and worldwide. Nestled in the Oakland Hills, in 500-acre Knowland Park, the Zoo is located at 9777 Golf Links Road, off Highway 580. The East Bay Zoological Society (Oakland Zoo) is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization supported in part by members, contributions, the City of Oakland and the East Bay Regional Parks.