Guest Post by Shani Campbell
In a victory for elephants forced to perform in circuses in Oakland, the City Council voted to ban the bullhook, after four hours of debate that lasted into the wee hours of the night. A bullhook is a weapon resembling a fireplace poker that is used to train elephants through brutality, pain and fear. The main opposition to the bill, not surprisingly, was Feld Entertainment, Inc. parent company of Ringling Brothers Circus. The Teamsters also made an appearance voicing their fear of job loss. A presentation was given showing numerous undercover videos of elephants being brutally beaten with bullhooks, including undercover video of Ringling handlers abusing their elephants taken by PETA in 2009. One of the most damning pieces of evidence was a video taken by local activist Deniz Bolbol, where a young elephant named Angelica was beaten by a Ringling Brothers handler while chained by two legs at the Oakland arena.
The bullhook ban will go into effect September 2017, which will allow Ringling Brothers to perform through 2017, as their usual tour through Oakland is in August. Ringling Brothers has stated that without the use of the bullhook, they cannot bring their elephants for performances. In a last ditch bullying tactic, Feld Entertainment threatened to pull all of their shows, i.e. Disney on Ice, Monster Truck, Motocross, etc. from the Oakland arena. With the help of councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan a deal was struck with the Unions to include a phase-out period in the ordinance, enabling the arena to properly prepare for the loss of money.
Local and longtime animal advocates Pat Cuviello and Deniz Bolbol spearheaded this ordinance with the support of the Oakland Zoo, East Bay SPCA, PAWS, PETA, HSUS and the Los Angeles activist who spearheaded the ban in Los Angeles. Oakland City Council Member Noel Gallo sponsored the ordinance and Council Member Dan Kalb signed on as a co-sponsor. City Hall was packed with concerned citizens and animal advocates. Damning testimony given by many representatives of organizations including PAWS, the Oakland Zoo, East Bay SPCA, ALDF and PETA was met with roaring applause.
Council Members Larry Reid and Desley Brooks voted against the ban and Council Member Lynette Gibson McElhaney abstained which is essentially a “no” vote. Council Member McElhaney was very clear with her opposition on the ordinance, as she recalled Ringling employees to the podium to give them more time to try and defend themselves and continued to ignore the clear evidence of abuse from the undercover videos played. A few arena employees spoke during public comment voicing their concern of loss hours while Ringling brought a few employees to comment.
Both current mayor Jean Quan and future mayor Libby Schaaf stated that the use of animals in circuses for entertainment needs to be a thing of the past and this ban is certainly a great first step. Remember, we still need animal advocates to come out to protest Ringling Brothers circus every summer to educate the public about the severe abuse of animals used by circuses. Let this decision be the first of many cities, that slowly but surely put an end to the exploitation of animals for entertainment. Ringling Brothers has stated that it will continue to fight the Oakland bullhook ordinance and we will be there at every step and battle. We must continue to fight for justice and compassion, and our voices will be heard while old cruel traditions will continue to die.