Efforts continue to ban the “elephant hook”

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November/December 2009:


BOSTON–“All ears to the plight of the
GOP symbol,” according to Boston Herald reporter
Jessica Van Sack, Massachusetts state senator
Robert Hedlund has tried since 2004 to ban
keeping elephants in chains and striking them
with the ankus, or bullhook. The 2006 edition
cleared the Massachusetts senate, but not the
house of delegates. The 2009 edition reached a
legislative hearing on November 16.
A Republican representing Weymouth,
Plymouth and Norfolk, Hedlund distances himself
from those he calls “politically correct
left-wing do-gooders,” but concerning chaining
and the ankus, “”The more I got involved in the
issue, the more I became passionate about it and
emotionally tied to it, knowing the abusive
conditions these animals have to endure,” he
told Van Sack.

Endorsed by the Massachusetts SPCA, the
Hedlund bills have each been fought by the
Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus,
apparently to avoid a precedent for other states
to follow. Reported Van Sack, “A Herald review
shows Ringling Bros. has paid $94,962 since 2008
to a lobbyist, Robert Rodophele, who has
donated a total of $1,550 since 2008 to five
members of the senate who sit on the subcommittee
that will hear the measure.”
American SPCA founder Henry Bergh in 1884
persuaded the theatrical elephant exhibition
company Poole & Gilmore to stop using the ankus.
Few others have had success. Chaining elephants,
at least overnight, also remains standard
procedure almost everywhere that elephants are
But neither the ankus or chaining are
needed to train and control elephants, Elephant
Sanctuary in Tennessee founder Carol Buckley told
Before becoming a sanctuarian, Buckley
was a university student who stumbled into
becoming the caretaker for a newly imported baby
elephant named Tarra. Not knowing that
conventional elephant training belief held that
an elephant could not be taught to roller skate,
Buckley and Tarra developed a roller skating act.
“I really came full circle with Tarra,”
Buckley said. “At first, before we started
performing, I did not use a hook on her. I knew
nothing of elephant hooks. I trained Tarra by
using operant conditioning: positive
reinforcement. But then Tarra and I caught the
eye of the circus industry and we were taken into
the fold. At 21 years of age I thought I was the
luckiest want-to-be-trainer on the planet.
Unfortunately I was trained to use the weapon,
and that is how it is used, to inflict pain or
the threat of pain. The use of the hook is part
of a mindset of dominance.
“I was indoctrinated with the traditional
style of elephant management, of chains,
bullhooks, dominance and systematic abuse,”
Buckley regretted. “I was young and na├»ve.
Tarra was good to me, even though I changed and
was not so good to her. But we survived the
circus and zoo industry influence on me, because
deep inside I really cared about Tarra. When I
got some perspective and a few years older, I
began to realize that the industry was full of
rather sadistic people who really knew little and
cared even less for the elephants in their care.
When I realized what I had become and how it was
affecting Tarra, I started the Elephant
Sanctuary and we started a new life.
“It is my experience that you cannot have
bullhooks without abuse,” Buckley emphasized,
“because the bullhook is the tool used in a
system that thrives on dominance and systematic
abuse. Bullhooks, chains and dominance are
banned from the Elephant Sanctuary. We care for
our elephants with a system that requires mutual
respect. The elephants dictate their own lives,”
Buckley said. “We are simply here to serve.”

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