State Senate OKs bill that would make California first to ban use of bullhooks on elephants

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SACRAMENTO, California — California would become the first state to ban the use of bullhooks to guide and discipline elephants under a bill approved Friday by the state Senate.

"It's time that the state prohibits this inhumane practice," said Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, arguing that the use of the pointed hooks is cruel to the animals and dangerous to handlers if an elephant rebels.

The bill was sought by the Humane Society of the United States and the Performing Animal Welfare Society. The groups say no sanctuary or California zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums uses the devices.

Instead, keepers use a long pole with a soft tip as a target to draw the elephant in the desired direction, with a treat used to reinforce behavior.

"California, a longtime leader in protecting all animals, is now poised to be the first state to do away with the archaic and abusive training methods that travelling shows and circuses use on elephants," Nicole Paquette, the humane society's vice president of wildlife protection, said in a statement.

Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, the only lawmaker who spoke in opposition to the bill, pointed out that handlers aren't using axes, pitchforks or baseball bats to drive the elephants.

"It's a topical application that tells the elephant whether to go to the right, whether to go to the left," he said of the hooks shaped like a fireplace poker.

He said the hooks have been used for centuries to safely guide elephants and are not torturous.

The ban is opposed by Animal Actors of Hollywood Inc. and The Elephant Managers Association, among others. Two previous attempts to ban the hooks failed in 2006 and 2007.

SB716 passed the Senate on a 29-7 vote and now goes to the Assembly. If approved there and signed by the governor, it would take effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

Oakland and Los Angeles are among more than 40 municipalities nationwide to restrict using the devices. More than 30 countries have national restrictions.

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