MSPCA-Angell Pressures Lawmakers to Address Circus Elephant Cruelty

February 6, 2012

BOSTON, Feb. 6, 2012 – As state lawmakers gear up to debate a bill that would ban the cruelest instruments used on elephants that perform in circuses, the MSPCA-Angell has mobilized its significant lobbying and public education resources to help ensure the bill becomes a law.  Senate Bill 1706, “An Act Relating to the Treatment of Elephants,” would make it illegal to use any implement—such as the commonly used bullhook—to inflict pain on an elephant.  The bill would also outlaw the use of chains to restrain elephants for long periods of time, which is how virtually all circus elephants are kept when they are not performing.  Violation of these provisions would carry a stiff penalty for circus organizers, including fines of up to $5,000 and possible jail time.


S.1706 is up for debate at a time when public understanding of the suffering that elephants (and other circus animals) endure is on the rise.   The number of organized, sustained protests against circuses that use wild animals grows larger every year—and Massachusetts has already banned wild animal circuses in Quincy, Revere, Braintree, Weymouth, Provincetown and Somerville.  Moreover, major players in the circus industry are under increasing pressure to treat animals more humanely.  In 2011 Ringling Brothers agreed to pay a record $270,000 fine for violating the Animal Welfare Act when it repeatedly forced an elephant to perform despite suffering from an untreated, chronic infection.


The MSPCA is wholly opposed to the use of wild animals in circuses and has played a role in passing ordinances that ban the use of wild animals in several Massachusetts municipalities.  Until a state-wide ban on wild animals in circuses is achieved the MSPCA will continue pressing lawmakers to address the cruelest forms of abuse inflicted on elephants.


“There are too few legal protections for animals used in circuses and our hope is that advancing S. 1706 will at least ban the cruelest form of punishment that elephants endure when they perform in circuses night after night,” said Linda Huebner, Deputy Director of Advocacy, MSPCA-Angell.  “Despite what the circus industry wants Massachusetts citizens to believe, the use of bullhooks and restraints is extremely cruel, causing painful injuries and adding to these animals’ already intense suffering.  Moreover, they do not mitigate the huge threat to public safety inherent to forcing large wild animals to perform unnatural tricks in front of large crowds of people.”


The Cruelest Show on Earth

Training elephants to perform acts that are painful or that they do not understand often involves using a bullhook.  Also known as an ankus, the bullhook is a club made of wood, metal or other substantial material, with a sharp steel hook at one end that is capable of puncturing and tearing skin.  Handlers use the bullhook to hit, jab and poke the elephant until she performs often frightening and painful tricks.  S.1706 would ban the use of these and other similar instruments at all venues in Massachusetts in which elephants perform.


In addition to banning bullhooks, S.1706 would ban the use of chains to restrain elephants in between performances.  Chaining is one of the most common methods used to confine elephants in captivity and it severely restricts the animal’s movements—including lying down to rest, walking or socializing with other animals.  Circus elephants are typically chained at all times of the day except when performing or immediately prior to showtime.  The use of chains or similar devices is a significant health risk as their continued use causes elephants to stand in their own feces and urine, exposing their skin, feet and pads to a variety of bacteria that can lead to painful infections.  Standing still is unnatural for elephants, as well, and it causes problems with their feet, legs and joints.


Getting Involved: How to Pass S. 1706

S. 1706 has been referred to the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development.  A hearing is scheduled for February 13, 2012, before the committee, which will determine whether the bill advances to the full Senate.  The MSPCA-Angell’s Advocacy team and the bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Robert Hedlund of Weymouth, as well as several S.1706 co-sponsors are urging Committee members to release the bill with a favorable report.  For more information on how to help readers can click




The MSPCA-Angell is a national and international leader in animal protection and veterinary medicine and provides direct hands-on care for thousands of animals each year. Founded in 1868, it is the second-oldest humane society in the United States. Services include animal protection and adoption, advocacy, humane education, law enforcement, and world-class veterinary care. The MSPCA-Angell is a private, non-profit organization. It does not receive any government funding nor is it funded or operated by any national humane organization. The MSPCA-Angell relies solely on the support and contributions from individuals who care about animals. Please visit