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USDA: Ban Bullhooks Now!

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Sponsor: The Animal Rescue Site

Bullhooks are used to pressure elephants into obeying their trainers, but they cause serious injury. Help us ban bullhooks now!

Many zoos and circuses today are using inhumane techniques to train their elephants. The methods often involve the use of a bullhook, or a tool used to poke and punish the animals. The bullhook is made of metal and is highly painful to the elephant. The trainer uses the tool to exert pressure on the elephant's sensitive areas and ultimately coax it into performing.

Perhaps the best evidence of how utterly damaging bullhooks are to elephant welfare is from an undercover investigation of Carson & Barnes Circus1. Tim Frisco, the animal care director, was captured on video during profanity laden, violent, behind-the-scenes training sessions.

Frisco describes how to use the bullhook by instructing trainers to "Sink that hook and give it everything you got." He encourages them to "hurt 'em" and "make 'em scream," emphasizing that "when you hear that screaming then you know you got their attention."

Bullhooks inflict serious injuries ranging from lacerations to abscesses to wounds. In 2019, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) voted to prohibit the use of bullhooks in elephant care and training by 2021 — a significant step forward for an organization that previously defended their use2.

The board hopes to abolish the tool entirely by 2023, and signed a statement of intent to extend the prohibition to "emergencies and non-routine medical care" by 2023, said AZA spokesman Rob Vernon3.

The use of bullhooks and other training methods that utilize pain or force are inhumane and simply should not be permitted for use anywhere. Though captive, these elephants still have the right to live healthy and comfortable lives without humans torturing them.

Because virtually all circuses that use elephants use bullhooks to control them, banning bullhooks is a de facto ban on using elephants in circuses2.

Multiple countries and major international cities have already made the humane decision to prohibit the use of wild animals in circuses and traveling shows including England, Greece, Italy, Madrid, and Paris.

At the federal level, advocates cannot consistently rely on either the Animal Welfare Act or the Endangered Species Act, due to these statutes' narrow provisions, standing limitations, and inconsistent enforcement4. Only two states have defined suffering and abuse clearly enough in their statutes to enable effective prosecution of elephant mistreatment4.

This cruelty will not cease until the US Department of Agriculture takes an official stand against it.

Sign the petition asking the US Secretary of Agriculture to prohibit the use of bullhooks along with other force-based techniques when it comes to training circus and zoo animals.

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The Petition:

Dear Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture,

As a concerned animal advocate, I am writing to voice my opinions on the use of bullhooks in zoos and circuses for the purpose of training animals. Most frequently, elephants are the victims of this method because they are so large and require a great deal of energy to train. However, there is no need to exert pain upon these poor creatures in the name of entertainment.

If we are going to remove wild animals from their natural habitats and place them in smaller, domesticated environments, we must ensure their quality of life does not decrease. Using objects such as bullhooks and other force-based techniques is cruel and inhumane. Human enjoyment isn't worth another creature having to suffer.

The elephants deserve to live in peace without being treated as slave animals. Zoos and circuses need to find ways to train their animals that don't harm them or make their lives worse. Please implement a ban on the use of bullhooks as well as force-based training methods altogether.


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The Association of Zoos and Aquariums' prohibition of bullhooks is in the process of being carried out, but it will not reach every traveling zoo or circus. This is only the beginning of the fight! Sign the petition to support a nation-wide ban on these cruel tools!

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