Keep Austin weird…and free of cruel bullhooks

The animals are prodded and clubbed to force them to engage in certain behaviors and punish them for others.As efforts to protect wild elephants through regulation, awareness, rescue, and law enforcement move forward, cities around the US are taking important steps to protect these amazing animals’ captive counterparts.

Last week, the City of Austin, Texas banned the use of bullhooks on elephants citywide.

Bullhooks—rods with sharp metal hooks at one end—are commonly used to control and train performing elephants.

The animals are prodded and clubbed, often on the most sensitive parts of their bodies, to force them to engage in certain behaviors and punish them for others. This force is used to deter natural behaviors and encourage unnatural “performances,” which not only harm elephants, but also mislead the viewing public.

Although efforts to pass the ban have been ongoing for years, it was not until this month that the City Council—in a vote of 10 to 1—formally passed an ordinance to ban these inhumane devices.

The measure, which applies not only to circus animals but to all captive elephants, will take effect on October 1, 2016. By passing this critical measure, Austin joined dozens of U.S. cities (as well as other nations, including Mexico) that have enacted similar measures to support more humane treatment for captive and performing animals.

The City Council’s decision will expedite important progress that is already in motion. In response to growing public awareness and concern over cruel practices used to train circus animals, Ringling Bros. Circus announced this year that it will phase out elephants (but not other animal acts) from its traveling shows by 2018. While Ringling’s decision is certainly a step in the right direction, it is heartening to see Austin and other cities acting more quickly to bring an end to captive animals’ suffering. 

By banning bullhooks, Austin’s leadership has taken an important stand for captive elephants both in the city and nationwide, and will serve as a positive example as other U.S. cities consider taking similar steps to end animal suffering.  


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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy