Ringling Brothers return to Oakland — without elephants

Two days before the Ringling Brothers Circus begins a series of shows in Oakland, two City Council members and animal rights activists said they’re glad the circus has decided to stop using elephants in its performances sooner than planned.

In December 2014, the Oakland City Council became only the second city in the country, after Los Angeles, to pass an ordinance banning the use of bullhooks for handling elephants. Critics say bullhooks are instruments of torture.

Three months later, Ringling Brothers said it would discontinue elephant performances by 2018, but announced in May it had decided to stop such performances immediately.

Speaking at a news conference outside City Hall, City Councilman Dan Kalb said:

“Ringling Brothers has done this ahead of schedule.”

Kalb said that when the council voted to ban bullhooks:

“We knew this would go nationwide but we didn’t know it would happen sooner than we expected.”

Kalb said other cities have also voted to ban bullhooks and the California Legislature recently passed a bill that would make California the second state in the nation, after Rhode Island, to protect elephants from bullhook abuse. The bill is now on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

Critics say bullhooks are weapons resembling fireplace pokers used to jab, hook, strike, and hit elephants on sensitive areas of their body to inflict pain and instill fear to control them including during training and performances.

Kalb said:

“They are instruments that serve no purpose but to torture animals. … That’s not what Oakland is about, that’s not what this country is about and that’s not what our planet is about. … We love to have circuses in Oakland but without animals that are tortured.”

City Councilman Noel Gallo said the use of bullhooks “is not right and it is not accepted in the city of Oakland.” Gallo said he thinks circuses such as Ringling Brothers should also treat other animals, such as lions, tigers and horses, “with respect.”

Gina Kinzley, the co-elephant manager at the Oakland Zoo, said bullhooks “are not like a leash on a dog and only cause pain.” Kinzley said the Oakland Zoo discontinued using bullhooks 25 years ago and instead uses “protected contact” techniques, which she said are more humane.

In addition, Oakland Zoo officials have said they oppose the use of any exotic animals in circuses, or any performance venue, for humane reasons.

Among the groups that support the bullhook ban are the East Bay Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Performing Animal Welfare Society and Humanity Through Education, a Bay Area nonprofit that documents the living conditions and treatment of animals in circuses and educates patrons about those conditions.