Fulton County Bans Use of Elephant Bullhooks in Circuses

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(APN) ATLANTA — On Wednesday, June 01, 2011, the Fulton County Commission banned the use of elephant bullhooks in circuses, after months of lobbying by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Georgia Animal Rights and Protection (GARP), delivering a victory to the animals and their human advocates.

The vote was four to one, with two absent.  The four who voted in favor were Emma Darnell, Bill Edwards, Joan Garner, and Robb Pitts.  Liz Hausmann voted no.  Chairman John Eaves and Tom Lowe–both who previously had opposed the measure–were absent this time.

This is the third time that the Commission has voted on the measure.  Joan Garner played an instrumental role in allowing the measure to pass; the previous District 6 Commissioner, Nancy Boxill, had consistently voted no, while Garner co-sponsored the measure with Pitts.

“I love her [Garner].  She’s wonderful.  You get a good vibe from her,” Julie Robertson, an activist with GARP, told Atlanta Progressive News.

Activists are concerned about the use of elephant bullhooks, which they claim to be animal abuse, by the Ringling Brothers Circus, which occurred earlier this year at Phillips Arena.

As previously reported by APN, three young women were arrested during a protest at Atlanta City Hall in February 2011, where they blocked the doors in an act of civil disobedience, to bring attention to the plight of the circus elephants.  A fourth individual dressed in an elephant costume who also blocked the doors, incidentally, was not arrested.

“Bullhooks are weapons that are used to force elephants to perform tricks they’d never do in the wild,” Delcianna Winders, PETA’s Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement, said in a statement.

“By passing this ban, the commissioners have sent the clear message that elephant abuse will not be tolerated in Fulton County,” she said.

“Circus trainers use bullhooks to inflict pain on elephants in order to make the animals perform difficult, meaningless, and painful tricks or to punish the animals.  Handlers sink bullhooks into areas of an elephant’s body where wounds would less likely be visible, such as under the chin or behind the knees or ears,” PETA states.

“A recent PETA undercover investigation of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus resulted in video footage that shows handlers repeatedly beating elephants with bullhooks moments before performances.  The use of bullhooks causes elephants extreme pain and stress,” PETA states.

“Elephant sanctuaries and most accredited zoos—including Zoo Atlanta—do not use bullhooks on elephants, and the cruel devices have been banned in Pompano Beach, Fla., and Southampton, N.Y.,” PETA states.

While the measure expresses the opinion of Fulton County, and bans the use of the bullhooks in the parts of Fulton County which remain unincorporated, the measure will not prevent Phillips Arena from hosting Ringling’s circuses in the future because the arena is in the City of Atlanta, near the Vine City neighborhood.

But Robertson insisted the vote by the Fulton County Commission was a victory.

“Ringling was there in force,” she said of the Commissioners’ meeting.  “There were thirty-six speakers, most of them were about the bullhook.  Ringling had their paid employees there to speak longer,” she said.

“This whole business… [that] it won’t affect Ringling… because that’s incorporated Fulton County, Phillips Arena… if it’s not gonna do anything, why does Ringling have their paid employees?”

“It felt really good,” she added.

Commissioner Hausmann explained her no vote to APN in a phone interview.

“I felt like we already had sufficient animal cruelty laws in place.  We wouldn’t have tolerated mistreatment of any animal that comes to town,” she said.

“And the area Fulton County regulates does not have any circuses that visit.  I know it sends a message, but I thought it just doesn’t apply to us.  Coupled with the fact, Ringling Brothers could choose not to come to Fulton County because of this.  We just lost the Thrashers, I don’t know how many events we could stand to lose.  I’m not a heartless Republican.  I’ve had animals my whole life,” she said.

“Unfortunately, we hear every now and then about some case of animal abuse, we don’t tolerate that, there are laws in place to deal with those [situations].  This was a special category that was already covered.  I don’t think there’s any acceptable form of abuse,” she said.

One activist, Anna Ware, was instrumental in the Fulton County victory, according to an email from GARP.

“The next step is to write to our Mayor, that’s obviously the next step,” Robertson said.

Mayor Kasim Reed’s position thus far has been that the City does not have the authority to ban bullhooks.

PETA sent two letters to Mayor Reed in February 2011 explaining why they believe the City of Atlanta does have that authority.  APN forwarded copies of the letters to three interested Council Members in February 2011.

Robertson said she will be following up with at least one Council Member who has expressed interest in the issue.

(END / 2011)

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