Why California of All Places Is Suddenly at the Epicenter of the Fight to Protect Captive Elephants

Both chambers of the California legislature have given overwhelming bipartisan approval to Senate Bill 1062, a measure to ban the use of bullhooks on elephants in circuses and traveling shows. Authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-33, SB 1062 gained final approval on August 11 with a concurrence vote after previously passing the Senate and Assembly by votes of 27 to 10 and 65 to 7 respectively.

Nicole Paquette, vice president of wildlife protection for The Humane Society of the United States said: "California has once again demonstrated its commitment to animal protection. California’s passage of SB 1062 comports with these changing public values and concerns about the humane treatment of animals."

Gov. Brown’s signature on SB 1062 will make California the second state in the nation after Rhode Island to protect elephants from bullhook abuse. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus acknowledged that its decision to remove performing elephants from its shows was prompted by the public’s rapidly changing opinion about the use of wild animals for entertainment.

"California's commitment to the humane treatment of elephants is strengthened today," said Sen. Lara. "Banning bullhooks removes cruel and horrific treatment against these kind, gentle animals. I urge the Governor to sign this critical measure."

Ed Stewart, president and co-founder of the Performing Animal Welfare Society said: “By its very design, the bullhook is meant to inflict pain and instill fear. The use of this archaic and inhumane weapon on elephants – a species that is self-aware, intelligent and emotional - is abhorrent. The time is right to ban this instrument of pain that has no place in modern society, and give elephants the respect and protection they deserve. PAWS thanks California legislators for leading the way.”

Dr. Joel Parrot, president and CEO of the Oakland Zoo said: “We thank Sen. Lara for introducing SB 1062. Oakland Zoo is proud have been part of the passionate team that succeeded in prohibiting bullhook use in the City of Oakland and we hope to now see it banned throughout the state. California zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums no longer use bullhooks on elephants. Instead, we rely on modern training and positive reinforcement techniques that have existed for more than twenty-five years.”

SB 1062 is supported by The HSUS, Humane Society International, the Oakland Zoo, the California Association of Zoos and Aquariums, PAWS, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and dozens of organizations and cities. 

The bill now goes to Gov. Brown for his signature. The bill comes just a month after Rhode Island enacted similar legislation.

If signed by Gov. Brown, SB 1062 would take effect January 1, 2018.

Last year, the legislature passed a similar bill, which passed by a wide margin in both the Senate and the Assembly but was vetoed by Gov. Brown. SB 1062 addresses the Governor’s concerns. Specifically, violators of the prohibition would be subjected to a civil fine and possible permit revocation.

The legislature further demonstrated its commitment to elephant protection last year by voting overwhelmingly to pass AB 96, closing a loophole in the state’s decades-old ivory ban.

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