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Saturday, May 05, 2007
Connecticut May Become First State to Ban the Bullhook in Circuses

On a day when we celebrate the racing of horses in the Kentucky Derby, Connecticut lawmakers are debating whether to become the first state to ban the use of the bullhook, a tool used by circus employees to herd, control, and punish elephants. Circus officials claim that the bullhook is necessary to ensure that elephants behave correctly for the show. Animal rights activists claim that it tears, hurts, and scars elephants, as the bullhook features a steel hook designed to puncture the elephant's skin. It sounds painful, and according to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), it is. Here is PETA's description of how the bullhook is used on the elephant's skin:
The thickness of an elephant’s skin ranges from one inch across the back and hindquarters to paper-thin around the mouth and eyes, inside the ears, and at the anus. Their skin appears deceptively tough, but in reality it is so delicate that an elephant can feel the pain of an insect bite. A bullhook can easily inflict pain and injury on an elephant’s sensitive skin. Trainers often embed the hook in the soft tissue behind the ears, inside the ear or mouth, in and around the anus, and in tender spots under the chin and around the feet.

San Jose, Calif., humane inspectors found that seven Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus elephants "had injuries behind or on the back of their left ears. Some of the elephants had scars behind their left ears. Almost all of the injuries appeared to be fresh, with bright red blood present at the wound sites."
Sponsored by State Rep. Diana Urban (pictured to right), the bill has already passed the Connecticut House Judiciary Committee. Of concern to circus fans and some businesses and policy-makers in Connecticut, Ringling Brothers has pledged to boycott the state if the bill becomes law, meaning that the nation's largest circus company would no longer host circuses in the Constitution State. The absence of those circuses would present economic consequences. Indeed, the annual economic loss of circuses not occurring in Bridgeport and Hartford --the state's most populous and third-most populous cities--project to be about $2.6 million, including $200,000 in state and local taxes and $400,000 in locally purchased supplies.

It's worth mentioning the context of this bill, as it has not come out of the blue. Not only are other states, such as Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Nebraska, contemplating similar legislation, but Ringling Brothers has come under intense legal fire over the last couple of years. For instance, the company is fielding an on-going federal lawsuit from various animal rights groups which, under the Endangered Species Act, allege that "Ringling Brothers' routine beating of Asian elephants with bull hooks, its forcible separation of baby elephants from their mothers, and its chaining of elephants for long periods of time constitute the unlawful 'take' of these endangered animals in violation of the ESA." PETA also sued Ringling Brothers last year on allegations that it ran an extensive corporate espionage campaign against PETA and hired a former CIA operative to help conduct the operation.

I recognize that a circus and the law story might seem like a stretch for a sports law blog, but the Michael Vick pitbull fighting/animal abuse story must still be on my mind. And taken together, these stories appear to illuminate at least a couple of ways that we abuse other animals to entertain ourselves. That point brings to mind Geoffrey's excellent post from last May entitled "Was Barbaro Abused?"


When I first read the headline, I thought that you were referring to the NCAA.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 5/06/2007 2:00 PM  

Wow, I never had any idea Ringling Brothers did such a thing! That is pure animal cruelty! If an elephant can feel an insect bite, imagine how painful this bullhook must be! Sure, Connecticut's large cities are going to lose a huge economic profit if this ban follows through, but I'd say it's worth it. Ringling Brothers should find a different way of training their elephants. It is not necessary to use a harmful bullhook. Other states need to follow Connecticut so Ringling Brothers will have no choice but to change their ways of training their elephants.

Blogger Rachel Powell -- 5/06/2007 2:13 PM  

What's most interesting is the fact that the City of Bridgeport is named "The Barnum City", after PT Barnum - yes, of The Barnum & Bailey Circus, Bridgeport was the home to the modern day traveling circus...

Anonymous Anonymous -- 5/07/2007 8:58 PM  

There would be no economic loss as other shows would rush in to fill the void; we're only talking about 10 days out of the year, 5 in Hartford, 5 in Bridgeport. Easy to find shows that don't beat animals. There are even some popular animal-free circuses.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 5/12/2007 7:47 PM  

All world are behind to save animal and protect them and dont know whats going out here? If such things will happen then you will not find Elephant after 50 years. Need to save the animal

Connecticut Drug Addiction

Blogger IwAay -- 8/22/2008 11:14 AM  

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