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Animal Protection Groups Urge Lawmakers to Ban the Bullhook

BOSTON, Feb. 3, 2014 – The MSPCA-Angell and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) urge the Massachusetts legislature to pass Senate Bill 1626 to prohibit the inhumane treatment of elephants used in circuses and travelling shows — specifically the use of bullhooks and other cruel devices. The bill has a hearing on Monday, Feb. 3 at 2:00p.m. in room A-1 at the State House.

The bullhook is the device most commonly used by circuses to train, punish and control elephants. A bullhook resembles a fireplace poker. It has a sharp metal hook and spiked tip, and the handle is typically plastic or wood. It is used to poke, prod, strike, and hit elephants on their sensitive skin in order to “train” them and often causes bloody puncture wounds and lacerations.

Nicole Paquette, vice president of wildlife protection for HSUS, said, “Devices that cause pain and suffering have no place in the handling of captive elephants. We commend Senator Hedlund and the many co-sponsors for taking steps to protect these highly intelligent and social animals from inhumane and outdated training methods.”

“This legislation represents a key step in extending basic animal cruelty protections to animals outside of our homes,” said Senator Hedlund. “Elephants are intelligent, majestic animals and deserve to be treated with respect and care. My bill will help to ensure that these elephants are treated humanely by any traveling shows that come to the Commonwealth.”

S. 1626 also prohibits the constant chaining of elephants. Elephants in circuses are typically chained overnight by two legs, permitting only enough space to move 3 feet forward or backward. Chaining severely limits movement and the ability to lie down, prevents these highly social animals from interacting normally with one another, and causes deadly foot disorders and arthritis.

“More localities are deciding that they won’t tolerate this type of treatment of elephants. Los Angeles just passed a similar measure. Massachusetts can, and should, remain a leader in how we treat animals.” stated Kara Holmquist, director of advocacy for the MSPCA-Angell.

Fourteen year old Sophie Smith from Marblehead will testify in support of the bill. Sophie was awarded the “young hero” award from the MSPCA for her advocacy for elephants. Additionally, Scott Blais, co-founder of the Elephant Sanctuary will testify.

Why are Bullhooks so Bad?

  • The use of bullhooks results in trauma, suffering and physical injury, often including lacerations, puncture wounds and abscesses to an elephant’s sensitive skin, which is rich in nerve endings and susceptible to abrasions
  • Elephant sanctuaries and most accredited zoos that house elephants no longer use these barbaric devices and instead rely exclusively on positive reinforcement, such as treats and praise
  • At least 40 US municipalities have passed full or partial restrictions on the use of wild animals in public displays and/or the use of bullhooks and more than 30 countries have passed national restrictions
  • Since 1990, at least 16 human deaths and 135 injuries in the U.S. have been attributed to elephants, mainly involving circuses



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 and like us on Facebook at