Activists Welcome Groundbreaking Zoo Bullhook Ban


The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has announced that it will phase out the use of bullhooks—cruel weapons used on captive elephants to force them to do the bidding of human masters. The phase-out will begin by prohibiting the use of bullhooks in routine elephant care by 2021 and ultimately ban their use entirely (excepting emergencies and non-routine medical care) by 2023. 

In Defense of Animals welcomes this positive news from AZA headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, and is heartened by the facilities that have already stated they will comply.

An Asian elephant performing tricks at a zoo in Germany. Notice the bullhook in the trainer’s hand. Image credit Jo-Anne McArthur / Born Free Foundation.

Roger Williams Park Zoo is among the zoos that will have to phase out the use of these weapons. Roger Williams is located in Rhode Island, which hosts one of two state-wide bullhook bans, to which Roger Williams is exempt, due to its lobbying against the ban. The zoo has insisted on continuing its use of bullhooks, with trainers wielding them in full view of the public and even featuring a bullhook display in attempts to normalize the abuse. This is one of the reasons that Roger Williams landed a spot on In Defense of Animals’ respected list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in 2018.

According to the Washington Post, Roger Williams Zoo has agreed to phase out the use of the weapon, citing the public pressure this facility has faced. 

“We are thrilled with the AZA’s decision to phase out bullhooks in member facilities, and that Roger Williams Park Zoo has already committed to complying,” says Fleur Dawes of In Defense of Animals. “Over 10,000 In Defense of Animals supporters petitioned the zoo asking that it stop using the weapons on elephants. The AZA bullhook ban follows numerous bullhook bans that already exist across the United States, revealing the public sentiment against using these weapons on elephants.”

An African elephant at a zoo in Denmark. Image credit Jo-Anne McArthur / Born Free Foundation.

It is widely accepted that bullhooks are entirely unnecessary for any aspect of elephant management in captivity, making them an additional debasement elephants are forced to endure. According to the AZA, only around 30 of its listed facilities continue to use bullhooks and will be affected by the new ban, including the Oregon Zoo, which has been featured on In Defense of Animals’ 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants list numerous times. However, the majority of AZA member zoos claim they do not use the weapons. Given that so many facilities do not use bullhooks (including accredited sanctuaries, which never use them), these weapons are clearly not necessary. Non-AZA zoos, animal circuses, and roadside zoos will soon become the only places where using bullhook weapons to cruelly control elephants will occur.

In Defense of Animals applauds the AZA for changing course and deciding to phase out the use of this cruel weapon once and for all.

Featured image: an Asian elephant at a zoo in Denmark. Image credit Jo-Anne McArthur / Born Free Foundation.

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In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization with over 250,000 valued supporters and a 30-year history of protecting animals, people and the environment through education, campaigns and hands on rescue facilities in India, Africa, and rural Mississippi. Our main headquarters are established in San Rafael, California. Click to see author's profile.

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