RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A proposed bill is making its way through the Richmond City Council that could impact whether the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus will pitch its big tent in Richmond. The ordinance would outlaw bullhooks in the River City. Bullhooks are the rod-like tools that elephant trainers often use to control the animal. They have a metal hook at the end. Animal rights groups have long urged that bullhooks are abusive and harmful.
If the law was passed, it would mean Ringling Brothers, or any other circus using bullhooks to train elephants, wouldn't come to Richmond- unless they changed their protocol. Animals rights groups like the Richmond SPCA, Richmond Friends of Animals, and PETA, have long maintained that this is better for the elephants.
Stephen Payne, a spokesperson for Feld Entertainment, the parent company of the Ringling Brothers Circus, says the law would mean Richmond families would be deprived of one of the greatest shows on earth.
YouTube has a slew of videos showing elephant trainers using bullhooks, depicting alleged abuse. One elephant is shown with a large gash to the back of its ear. There's no confirmation where this video was taken, but Payne says Ringling Brothers trainers use bullhooks in a humane way. Payne says that several government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approve the use of the tools.
"It's not used in a way that would harm an elephant… A lot of these groups will claim that these tools are somehow wicked and misused, when that's not true," said Payne.
"(Wild animals) don't naturally perform silly tricks like balancing balls or jumping through hoops. So, circuses must use sharp tools like bullhooks to force them to perform. These tools are painful and they insight fear into these animals," said Laura Cascada, an organizer with the group Richmond Friends of Animals.
The ordinance has been pushed back in the Richmond City Council. The council is slated to take up the ordinance again in February. Dozens of other cities across the U.S., including Los Angeles, have reportedly taken up similar bills against shows using bullhooks to train animals.
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