Bill Would Ban Zoo Elephant Rides, Limit Discipline

Times Staff Writer

Legislation that would ban elephant rides at zoos, circuses and carnivals is being prepared at the request of Sen. Dan McCorquodale (D-San Jose), chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, as part of a comprehensive bill dealing with the handling of captive elephants.

The ban, believed to be the first in the country, will be considered March 9 at a meeting of a task force formed by McCorquodale after an elephant-beating incident at the San Diego Wild Animal Park last year.

McCorquodale also has asked the legislative counsel to draft language that would make it illegal to discipline an elephant by using electricity, depriving it of food, water or rest, or in any way that damages, scars or breaks its skin. The bill also would make it a violation of the Penal Code to discipline an elephant by inserting any instrument into any bodily orifice, according to a letter McCorquodale sent to Legislative Counsel Bion Gregory.

McCorquodale plans to introduce the legislation some time this year, but it is unclear whether the final version will include the ban on rides, according to an aide to McCorquodale who asked not to be named. The aide called the proposed ban “very preliminary.” The task force, an advisory group that includes zoo officials and animal rights activists, will be asked for comment on the bill at the meeting in Sacramento next week.


Strong opposition from zoos throughout the state is expected.

“I can’t think of any other spot in the world where it’s against the law to ride elephants,” said Jeff Jouett, a spokesman for the Zoological Society of San Diego, said Tuesday. “Elephant rides are one of the most popular attractions. They’re a rare opportunity for people to come into contact and appreciate the animals in a very special way. Rides are a part of elephant history and something that has happened for thousands of years.”

California zoos may coordinate a protest of the proposed ban for presentation at the task force meeting, Jouett said.

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Last year, 156,912 elephant rides were given at the San Diego Zoo by a private contractor, netting the zoo $80,020, Jouett said. The Wild Animal Park, which uses its own elephants, gave 60,571 elephant rides in 1988, bringing in $106,000, he said. The Zoological Society operates both the park and the zoo.

Elephant rides also are “extremely popular” at the Los Angeles Zoo, according to Ed Alonso, animal collection curator there. The rides “give another dimension to the public understanding of elephants,” Alonso said. “They’ve been domesticated for a number of years.”

The push for the ban on elephant rides comes from animal rights advocates on the task force who allege that excessive discipline is required to make elephants docile enough to safely carry children.

“The thing I have against (rides) is they’re the first step toward making elephants circus animals in the zoo,” said Cleveland Amory, head of the New York-based Fund for Animals and a member of McCorquodale’s task force. “We have to stop all these stupid tricks and standing on drums.”

Elephants are so “brow-beaten” in the process of training for rides, Amory said, “that, by the time it’s over, they’re not elephants any more, they’re large zombies.”

“They say they have to beat them to protect the keepers, well they have to beat them all the harder to protect the public,” Amory said.