The Los Angeles City Council took action Wednesday to ban bullhooks used by elephant trainers in traveling circuses, becoming the first U.S. metropolis to outlaw a tool that critics say inflicts pain.
Voting unanimously, the council asked the city attorney's office to prepare an ordinance outlawing the use of the bullhook, a sharp-tipped tool used to train and keep elephants under control. Baseball bats, ax handles, pitchforks and other implements used on the pachyderms would also be banned.
In a concession to Councilman Gil Cedillo, however, the council voted to give circuses three years to either change how they handle elephants or remove them from shows altogether.
Many in the standing-room-only crowd in the council chamber at City Hall were upset by the last-minute amendment, which Cedillo said would save jobs of workers who help staff circuses when they come to town.
Some yelled, "Three more years of torture!" after the vote.
Actress Lily Tomlin, an animal rights activist who has long pushed for a bullhook ban, said the council's action should be viewed as a positive first step.
"We'd like it to be stopped this hour,'' she said at a press conference following the vote. "But it can't be and it's going to be done this way. We're grateful for any kind of movement at all."
Feld Entertainment Inc., the producer of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circuses, had sought to stop a ban. "The arguments in favor of such bans are steeped in emotion and rife with broad generalizations that misrepresent what is the norm in the responsible care, training and management of elephants," Thomas L. Albert, vice president of Feld, said in a prepared statement.
In July, officials said, L.A. Animal Services conducted 25 hours of inspections of Ringling Bros.' appearance at Staples Center and "at no time did it find any violations or problems with any animal." Also, a veterinarian hired by the department "found no signs of abuse or improper use of guides."
In 2013, nearly 90,000 Angelenos came to the Ringling Bros. circus, according to Feld.
During the hearing, Councilman Paul Koretz said he did his own investigation about circus practices before asking the council to take action. He played a video showing a young elephant hogtied in a corral during training sessions.
In another scene, an elephant can be heard making sounds of apparent distress after an animal prod is applied to its skin by a trainer. Council President Herb Wesson cut off the video after a few minutes.
"Mr. Koretz I believe we've seen more than enough," Wesson said. "I'm ready to vote."
PETA spokeswoman Julia Gallucchi said Los Angeles would become the first major city in the United States to outlaw bullhooks.
"This is a huge win for elephants," she said.