Elephant trainers in traveling circuses will be banned from using bullhooks and other tools "designed to inflict pain" while in Los Angeles under new rules that the City Council approved Wednesday.
Animal rights activists argue that bullhooks are cruel and abusive. Circus producers have countered that such tools are needed to exhibit the animals safely and that banning them means banning the circus entirely.
"We're not going to come to L.A. without our elephants," said Stephen Payne, vice president of corporate communications for Feld Entertainment, the parent company for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. "The Asian elephant has been a symbol of Ringling Bros. for 144 years. We cannot bring them without using USDA-approved husbandry tools."
The council decided in October to start drafting rules to ban bullhooks and other elephant tools after watching video footage of elephants being prodded and in apparent distress that was provided by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal rights group.
The rules that the council voted unanimously to approve Wednesday ban trainers from using, brandishing or displaying bullhooks and other prohibited tools, including baseball bats and pitchforks.
The bullhook ban will go into effect at the beginning of 2017 -- a delay meant to give circuses time to change how they handle elephants or remove them from their shows completely. Many animal rights activists were disappointed that the ban was not immediate, but nonetheless saw it as a victory.
"Circuses have been placed on notice that they're welcome to come to town -- but not at the expense of cruelty to elephants," said Carney Anne Nasser, an attorney with the PETA Foundation.
She added, "There's nothing stopping them from presenting the Ringling Bros. circus without elephants."