Captive Elephants Need Better Protections

Posted by Carney Anne Nasser, ALDF Legislative Counsel on February 26, 2015


Any time elephants and humans share the same space, whether in a zoo, at a circus, or at a county fair, elephants are likely to suffer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, elephant handlers who utilize the “free contact” system of elephant management have the highest risk of fatal work injury for any profession. Free contact is characterized by the use of sharp bullhooks or other weapons intended to inflict pain and fear. Handlers use the bullhook to beat, jab, hook, poke, and prod elephants in the most sensitive areas of their bodies. When the public is present, the mere presence of the bullhook acts as a threat of pain the elephant will endure if she doesn’t perform as commanded. This barbaric conditioning process begins when the elephants are mere infants. Already in 2015:

  • An investigation has been opened into UniverSoul Circus for alleged cruelty to an elephant at a show in Atlanta.
  • The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium was cited by the USDA for using biting dogs to control elephant behavior.
  • Asheville, North Carolina instituted an aggressive policy change to prohibit circuses from using exotic animals in the city-owned arena.
  • San Francisco is considering an ordinance to ban the exhibition of exotic animals.
  • Hawaii stands poised to pass the first state-wide legislation to ameliorate abuse of wild and exotic animals used in circuses.
  • Just this week, Santa Monica, Calif. passed a ban on the exhibition of exotic animals.

In addition to abusive handling, elephants also endure premature maternal separation; lack of adequate enrichment, space, and socialization; and perpetual confinement in chains on unnatural surfaces during transport for traveling shows or while backstage at performance venues. These conditions are associated with lifelong physiological and psychological damage that make elephants unpredictable and prone to aggression:

  • 9/10/2014: an elephant fatally crushed the founder of an elephant facility in Hope, Maine.
  • 10/11/2013: an elephant fatally trampled a handler at the Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, Mo. while he was coaxing the elephant from one part of the enclosure to another.
  • 8/26/2013: an elephant attacked a visitor at a roadside zoo in Williston, Fla. whose resultant critical injuries required her to spend nearly two months in the hospital.

On the other hand, the “protected contact” method of handling elephants is characterized by positive reinforcement: handlers don’t use bullhooks or other weapons, never share unrestricted space with the elephant, and never force the elephant to submit to the handler’s demands. This method is employed by the only two reputable elephant sanctuaries in the United States (the Performing Animal Welfare Society in California and The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee) and by zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

ALDF is working toward the day when holding elephants captive will be a relic of the past—in the meantime we are fighting to ensure captive elephants aren’t subjected to additional abuse with cruel weapons of behavior modification. Los Angeles, Oakland, Miami Beach, and dozens of other localities across the U.S. have enacted ordinances to ban the use of bullhooks or the use of elephants and other exotic animals in entertainment all together. ALDF is working hard to ensure more jurisdictions pass laws to ban the cruel use of bullhooks and other weapons, to prohibit prolonged chaining and caging, and to eliminate the use of wild and exotic animals in entertainment altogether.

We hope you will join us by refusing to attend any entertainment events where animals are forced to perform, and by letting legislators know that you will not tolerate such cruelty in your community.

Take Action

  • Do not attend events that exploit animals.
  • Urge your local legislators to pass similar ordinances that ban the use of exotic animals in entertainment.

13 thoughts on “Captive Elephants Need Better Protections

  1. Tracey says:

    Let animals enjoy the freedom and rights they deserve. Humans sicken me that they even think they have this inate right to exploit and determine the life of another living, sentient being.

    The work this team does restores my faith in humanity.

  2. Meghan Clifford says:

    Elephants are amazing animals that deserve the right to live out their lives in their natural habitat with their families.

  3. Lisa Lammon says:

    we need justice for our animals and I want to keep up with this in my area… like I called the Mayor about the Elephant at the circus in Knoxville this last week and also the man over the building that was rented out to the Circus and talk to them about Elephant abuse and its to cold for them .. I did try!!

  4. Tom says:

    Way to go!

  5. dm wolf palmer says:

    Save our wildlife from torture, abuse, poaching … it’s an atrocity and a crime against wildlife.

  6. Fay says:

    Please stop all cruelty involving animals. Elephants should be protected not abused and exploited!

  7. Bex Green says:

    It is inhumane and barbaric to exploit animals for human gain. We have a moral obligation to protect all animals. Humans can be so cruel and often naive. Treat animals with the respect they deserve. I for one will not be involved or visit any such places that show such cruelty to such beautiful creatures. Free the world and let animals behave in their natural way in their natural surroundings. Stop these outdated methods, there is no argument to justify such behaviour. Have compassion. I look forward to the day the World exists without cruelty.

  8. geraldine Daly says:

    My blood boils, when I read about animal torture and abuse. Those cruel, barbaric handlers should be proscecuted and made answer for their sadistic treatment of misfortunate animals. All circuses and zoos should be closed asap

    1. Angela Rae says:

      Me too, Geraldine. It is so damn heartbreaking what Zoos and private circuses do to elephants. Even the “good” Zoos still rob elephants of their very nature: to live in warm climates, walk hundreds of miles each week, foraging for food, swimming in mud holes, socializing with their families. #SanctuaryNow #chai #bamboo

  9. Maria Schulz says:

    Please protect animals!

  10. Gaynor Morris says:

    Freedom. Stop suffering.

  11. Kirsti Arndt says:

    It is your duty to protect these animals, not a side line, DUTY. Please be responsible for the stopping of this abuse and pain.

  12. cynthis livingstone says:

    I can’t believe that poor Lucy
    In edmonton, will not get the
    Blanket intended for her. She
    likely hss respritory.problems
    because of Edmonton’s cold climate!!!
    Who are these people who say
    she does not need it!! Who are
    these people who say her well being
    Is been nutured in this enviornment!!
    Let Lucy go to an elephant sancuary
    and be with her own kind!!
    Cynthia Livingstone

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